Thursday, January 24, 2019

Photos Show Murray’s Role in Perry Coal NOPR

Newly revealed photographs show Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray meeting in late March to discuss the coal mining company’s “action plan” — the apparent basis for Perry’s controversial call for price supports for coal generating plants.

The photos, obtained by magazine In These Times and The Washington Post, appear to contradict Murray’s statement to Greenwire in November that “I had nothing to do with” the DOE Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

One photo shows the action plan’s cover letter, printed on Murray Energy letterhead. Another shows Perry embracing Murray.

Rick Perry NOPR Murray Energy

Cover letter of Murray Energy’s “action plan” | Photograph obtained by In These Times

In These Times reporter Kate Aronoff said a confidential source provided the magazine with the photos, as well as additional, unpublished photos showing pages in the document, which propose, among other things, cutting EPA’s staff by half and replacing members of FERC, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Board of Directors and the National Labor Relations Board.

Rick Perry NOPR Murray Energy

Murray and Perry embrace. | Photograph obtained by In These Times

Aronoff said her magazine had only obtained photographs of the meeting and of the document, not the document itself.

The action plan contains language regarding the need for “immediate action” to support struggling coal plants like that in the DOE NOPR issued to FERC on Sept. 28 (RM18-1).

One section of the plan calls for “immediate action … to require organized power markets to value fuel security, fuel diversity and ancillary services that only baseload generating assets, especially coal plants, can provide,” according to In These Times.

The DOE NOPR says “immediate action is necessary to ensure fair compensation in order to stop the imminent loss of generators with on-site fuel supplies, and thereby preserve the benefits of generation diversity.”

Murray had referenced the document in an Oct. 11 episode of PBS’s “Frontline,” “War on the EPA.”

“I gave Mr. Trump what I called an ‘action plan’ very early,” said Murray, whose company’s political action committee donated $100,000 to President Trump’s campaign last year, according to the Federal Election Commission. “It’s about three-and-a-half pages … of what he needed to do in his administration. He’s wiped out page 1,” which apparently included repealing the Clean Power Plan.

Several other officials are portrayed in the photos: Perry’s chief of staff, former Edison Electric Institute Vice President for External Affairs Brian McCormack, is pictured shaking hands with Murray. Also seen is Andrew Wheeler, at the time a registered lobbyist for Murray Energy, now Trump’s nominee for EPA deputy administrator.

Rick Perry NOPR Murray Energy

Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray (right) shakes hands with DOE Chief of Staff Brian McCormack (left) as Energy Secretary Rick Perry (center) looks on. | Photograph obtained by In These Times

At his confirmation hearing in early November, Wheeler testified to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that he had only briefly seen the document. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has called for its release. Wheeler has cleared the committee, and his nomination is pending a vote by the full Senate.

DOE did not dispute the authenticity of the photos. “Industry stakeholders visit the Department of Energy on a daily basis,” a department spokeswoman told Politico.

The March 29 meeting at DOE headquarters occurred just weeks after Perry was sworn in as secretary, and weeks before he would order a study on the effect of federal policies on the reliability of the grid.

Later in July, according to a letter from Murray to Trump obtained by the Associated Press, Murray met with the president and Perry in Youngstown, Ohio, where he asked that the secretary declare an emergency on the grid under Section 202(c) of the Federal Power Act in order to protect coal-fired plants owned by FirstEnergy, Murray’s biggest customer.

FERC NOPR Rick Perry James A. FitzPatrick nuclear plant

Andrew Wheeler, President Trump’s nominee for EPA deputy administrator, is seen on the far right, as Murray speaks with Perry. | Photograph obtained by In These Times

Trump was receptive to the proposal and, according to Murray, told Perry three times that “I want this done.” On Aug. 3, Murray again met with the president, along with FirstEnergy CEO Charles Jones, in Huntington, W.Va., where Trump told personal aide John D. McEntee III to tell Gary Cohn, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, “to do whatever these two want him to do.”

Perry, however, rejected the emergency order, the AP reported on Aug. 22. The next day, the department released its grid study. And a month later, Perry issued his NOPR, ordering FERC to consider fully compensating plants with a 90-day supply of on-site fuel their operating costs. (See Perry Orders FERC Rescue of Nukes, Coal.)

On Friday, Perry reluctantly agreed to FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre’s request to delay action on the NOPR for 30 days. (See McIntyre Takes FERC Chair; Wins Delay on NOPR.)

— Michael Brooks