US President Donald Trump has this week announced his nomination of Bernard McNamee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an independent office of the Department of Energy.
The decision has incited criticism due to McNamee’s support of Trump’s pro-coal and nuclear agenda, and his role in helping Energy Secretary Rick Perry roll out a plan to subsidise aging coal and nuclear plants earlier this year.
The plan was opposed by a group of renewable groups, power grid operators and natural gas drillers and was ultimately rejected by the FERC in January.
Environmental groups have said McNamee’s appointment to the FERC is a means of bypassing blocks on pro-fossil fuel measures and have complained that McNamee will not be acting independently from the Trump administration.
Environmental organisation Sierra Club member Mary Anne Hitt told Reuters McNamee is “a political plant for Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Donald Trump. Collectively, they are trying to use FERC to manipulate America’s electricity markets to bail out dirty and expensive coal plants … while locking in a fossil fuel future for communities across the country.”
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McNamee would take over the position from Ron Powelson and occupy the seat until 30 June 2020, though he still needs to be confirmed by the Senate.
Powelson vehemently opposed Perry’s proposal to bail out struggling coal and nuclear plants, saying it would disrupt competitive power markets and cause customers’ energy bills to increase.
Proponents of the coal industry have consistently voiced fears that the industry is suffering due to the ever-decreasing costs of renewable alternatives such as solar and wind, while the US Energy Department said keeping ageing plants active is crucial to maintaining the country’s grid stability.
In June, Trump ordered Perry to take emergency measures to prevent coal and nuclear plant closures, supporting bailouts for the plants under the argument that they offer security to the energy industry in the provision of stored fuel on site. The plan relies on powers given to the executive branch of the grid as part of the Defence Production Act of 1950 and the Federal Power Act, measures that are only intended to be used to keep crucial infrastructure operational in times of national emergency.
Last week, Perry told reporters he was still awaiting a response to his emergency measure proposals, and that the department is still looking to demand out-of-market payments for such sites.
The nomination is the latest example of Trump’s pro-coal agenda, with his time in office already seeing his pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement and his weakening of emission reduction targets set up under the Obama administration.