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Coal, natural gas leaders see recent Trump electricity order differently

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — While the leader of the West Virginia Coal Association said Tuesday the Trump administration’s recent order to protect coal and nuclear power facilities is critical for the country’s electricity grid, the executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia argued the action was unnecessary.

President Donald Trump ordered earlier this month for the Department of Energy to take steps to prevent the retirement of these facilities. While no specific strategy has been unveiled, one proposal would compel grid operators to purchase electricity produced at coal and nuclear facilities over a two-year period.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the order was needed to provide resilience to the nation’s electricity grid.

West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney said on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline” the number of coal plants being shut down has increased in recent years.

West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney

“Over the last eight years, they have shut down about 600 power units at 400 different plants. And that’s had a tremendous impact on the security of the grid, and particularly here in the east where it’s more concentrated,” he said.

Natural gas facilities produce 31.7 percent of the nation’s energy output compared to coal at 30.1 percent and nuclear facilities at 20.1 percent.

“It’s enormously important that we preserve the coal-burning utilities that we have here in West Virginia,” he said.

Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, said the decline of coal power plant use goes back to the Obama administration and policies affecting emissions.

“Picking winners and losers then and picking winners and losers now can be a very dangerous situation,” he said on “Talkline.”

Although Burd did not speak of any specific policies during his appearance, this would include the Paris climate agreement, which a majority of counties signed in an effort to reduce emissions and minimize the global temperature increase. Trump announced last year the United States would withdraw from the accord.

Raney said Gov. Jim Justice deserves credit for the new policy; in a statement following the president’s announcement, Justice said he had talked to Trump and Energy Secretary Rick Perry about immediate action benefitting coal.

The governor’s plan also includes an incentive payment to eastern United States facilities that use coal mined from Appalachia.

“This all had its genesis with Gov. Justice, who saw the need to try to do everything he can to preserve the electricity generating plants in the east and particularly here in West Virginia,” he said. “We’re pretty good at taking coal and making electricity out of it here.”

Burd said with the growth of natural gas nationally and in West Virginia, there should not be any fears about if facilities can produce enough electricity.

“There is enough natural gas being produced in this country and particularly maybe right here in this very Appalachian region that the thought that this is an impediment to our national security probably needs to be looked at a little more closely,” he said. “There’s plenty of natural gas to power the needs of our power production.”

Raney said coal plants do need to be updated, but that cannot happen if these plants are shut down.

“They’re all getting older and they need to have, you know, new boilers put in to become more efficient,” he said. “But in order to do that, you have to keep operating.”

West Virginia’s five members of Congress approved of the president’s action.

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