There’s a dangerous bubble in the fossil-fuel economy, and the Trump administration is making it worse

Carolyn Kormann writes: Last year, shortly after the election, the coal baron Robert Murray received a phone call from President-elect Donald Trump. “He said, ‘Tell your coal miners I got their backs,’ ” Murray later reported to Fox News. “Then he said, ‘I love you, man.’ ” Murray, who is the chairman and C.E.O. of Murray Energy, the largest private coal company in the country, was one of the first fossil-fuel executives to support Trump’s candidacy. Prior to the Republican National Convention, he hosted a fund-raiser for Trump in Charleston, West Virginia, attracting nearly five hundred thousand dollars in donations and contributing hundreds of thousands more from his own pocket. “It was eight years of pure hell under the Democrat Party and Obama,” Murray recently told “Frontline.” He added, laughing into the camera, “But we won! It’s a wonderful victory!”

Now Murray and his ilk have scored another victory. Last Tuesday, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, filed a proposal with the Federal Register to formally repeal the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. Finalized in 2015, the C.P.P. was designed to hasten state utilities’ adoption of renewable energy, improve air quality and public health across the nation, and, most notable, insure that the United States met its commitments under the Paris climate accord—a minimum twenty-six-per-cent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2025, based on 2005 levels. In a statement on the proposed repeal, Pruitt criticized the plan’s “devastating effects” on the American people. “The CPP ignored states’ concerns and eroded longstanding and important partnerships,” he said. The day before, in a speech to a group of miners in Hazard, Kentucky, Pruitt had echoed Murray’s triumphalist tone, declaring, “The war on coal is over.”

There is little doubt that one of the “important partnerships” Pruitt had in mind was with Murray Energy. His current second-in-command at the E.P.A., Andrew Wheeler, was a lobbyist for the company until mid-August, and when Pruitt was attorney general of Oklahoma, Murray was a top donor to his super pac. The C.E.O. was also a co-plaintiff in eight of the fourteen lawsuits that Pruitt brought against the E.P.A. before Trump put him in charge of the agency. One involved the C.P.P. According to Murray and Pruitt’s interpretation, the plan was a classic case of governmental overreach; the E.P.A., they claimed, did not have the regulatory authority to impose emissions targets on individual states. Thanks largely to their efforts, the C.P.P. never actually went into effect. It remains tied up in federal court. [Continue reading…]

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