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In Response: Trump-supported burning of more coal only exacerbating warming

I read the June 28 "National View" column in the News Tribune, "Americans support shoring up strained U.S. power grid," with considerable amusement. The column used the inarguable fact that we all want the electrical grid in the U.S. to provide dependable electrical service as cover for a very sinister turn of events in the history of American energy markets and liberty.

The real story is one of crony capitalism.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump met with Bob Murray of Murray Coal, who was furious about the decline of coal to generate electricity. The culprits were several, including energy efficiency that displaced twice as much electricity as wind and solar. But the biggest culprit was the rise of cheap, fracked natural gas — and Mr. Murray was having none of it. In his now-familiar, gut-level approach to decision-making, now-President Donald Trump turned to his advisors and told them to give Murray whatever he wanted. Mr. Murray bestowed $300,000 for the new president's inauguration and provided a several-page plan to restore the coal industry to dominance.

The rest of the story now takes a hallowed place in the pantheon of poor governance.

It is well known how the Trump administration has gone out of its way to scoff at the overwhelming evidence in favor of climate change. True to form, the Department of Energy immediately sought ways to increase coal production. The problem was that free markets for energy were shunning coal as the country became awash in excess and expensive coal-burning capacity. Free markets, populated by free people, were making decisions the president did not like. So, the Department of Energy tried to get the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, to declare an emergency that required burning more coal. The commission unanimously refused to go along, as this would "blow up the markets," as several commissioners noted.

After failing to help Murray Coal through FERC, the Department of Energy hit the law library and dusted off several Cold War-era laws that allow the federal government to command consumers to buy more expensive coal and nuclear energy.

To justify this forced transfer of income from consumers to carbon-polluting coal companies, the Department of Energy brought forth that hoariest of policy justifications: national security.

Fortunately, there is no emergency. Energy managers are quite satisfied with the supply of electricity.

The reality is we are getting Russia-style crony capitalism. Never have these laws been used to prop up companies that can't compete, but Bob Murray has gotten an impressive apparent return on his investment of $300,000.

The crowning irony is that the deeply plunging cold fronts of 2014 and 2018, which are the basis of the national-security argument, were the direct result of global warming. Severe temperature differences between the equator and the poles no longer exist to drive the jet stream straight across the continent. Now, the jet stream is loopy and warms Alaska and pushes the cold into the eastern U.S., which was about the only place on the globe colder than average during these events. Meanwhile, the rest of the planet was burning up.

Burning more coal will only exacerbate the warming, the loops in the jet stream, and the locally massive rainfalls of the last several weeks. Meanwhile, renewable energy plus storage keeps getting cheaper and more reliable every year.

We need to correct both this failure of governance and the market failure to include the cost of climate change into the price of fossil fuels. Tell Congress to end this madness. Enact carbon-fee-and-dividend legislation to unleash entrepreneurship; give people dividend checks; and grow a clean, reliable energy future filled with individual liberty.

Eric Enberg

Dr. Eric Enberg practices family medicine in West Duluth and is the group leader of the Duluth Citizens' Climate Lobby ( MN_Duluth). He also is a member of the Duluth Energy Coalition.