By Dave Anderson, Energy and Policy Institute
Coal producer Murray Energy lobbied on the latest bill to roll back renewable energy “mandates” in Ohio, while it fought for government intervention to prevent the closure of old and uncompetitive coal-fired power plants.
In a private letter dated January 24, 2017 and sent to Ohio Representative Bill Seitz, Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray said, “the Ohio General Assembly must pass legislation to end the expensive, job-killing Renewable Energy Mandates in our state.”
“We stand prepared to offer any assistance that you may need…,” wrote Robert Murray.
Murray’s letter referred Seitz to Michael T.W. Carey, Murray Energy’s Vice President of Government Affairs, for assistance.
The letter was one the docouments obtained via public records requests filed by the Energy and Policy Institute.
Seitz was the chairman of both the Ohio House Majority Caucus Policy Committee and the Public Utilities Committee for much of 2017. He was well positioned to draft an anti-RPS bill and move it through the legislative process, much as he had done during a previous stint in the Ohio Senate.
Seitz did not serve as HB 114’s primary sponsor, but he did receive top billing as a co-sponsor of the bill. Rep. Louis Blessing III ultimately served as the primary sponsor, but other documents confirm that Seitz played a leading role in crafting the bill.
An undated document from the Policy Department of the Ohio House was titled, “Rep. Seitz Energy Efficiency Renewable Energy Legislation,” and listed a number of provisions that were ultimately found in the bill.
“Start boning up on this for introduction in the near future,” Seitz wrote to Blessing in a February 8, 2017 email, about a month before the bill was introduced. A copy of the draft bill was attached to Seitz’s email.
Michael Cope, the president of the Ohio Coal Association, also testified and lobbied on HB 114 in 2017. A list of the group’s members found on its website includes a Murray Energy subsidiary, the Ohio Valley Coal Company, and Seitz’s law firm Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP.
Murray Energy once called the wind and solar power industries “a pure fraud”
In December of 2016, Robert Murray delivered public testimony in favor of extending a two-year freeze on Ohio’s RPS, or permanently eliminating it. An earlier bill, HB 554, passed that year by the Ohio House and Senate aimed to do the former, but it was vetoed by Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich and the RPS went back into effect in 2017.
“To many, the artificially created wind and solar power industries are a pure fraud,” Robert Murray said in his 2016 testimony to the Ohio Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “President-Elect Trump will end these costly subsidiaries [sic] so that all forms of electric power generation can compete on a level playing field, rather than the Federal government picking winners and losers.”
Murray presumably meant subsidies when he spoke of “subsidiaries” in his testimony.
Murray’s witness slip said he represented “Murray Energy Corporation and the Ohio Coal Industry,” and representatives of the Ohio Coal Association were copied on emailsregarding his testimony. One of those representatives, Christian Palich, later joined the Trump administration.
Robert Murray also referenced and enclosed a copy of a 2015 testimony by Greg Lawson, State Liason for the Buckeye Institute, which Murray described as “arguing for the freeze of Ohio renewable mandates because they ‘intervene in and ultimately distort Ohio’s energy markets.’”
Murray Energy has contributed money before to so-called “free market” climate skeptic groups, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Heartland Institute, that involved in earlier attacks on RPS policies in Ohio.
“No comment here,” a spokesperson for Murray Energy responded to a request for information about whether the coal company has also funded the Buckeye Institute, and when it last gave money to the Heartland Institute.
Murray Energy wants government to pick winners and losers, as long as coal wins
In 2017, Robert Murray described a controversial and costly proposal by Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to bail out old and uncompetitive coal-fired power plants as, “the single greatest action that has been taken in decades to support low-cost reliable electric power in the United States.”
A Politico analysis found that Perry’s proposal, which was ultimately terminated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), would have provided “a windfall for a small group of companies” – including Murray Energy.
Murray Energy also intervened in a 2017 Public Utilities Commission of Ohio case, in a failed attempt to oppose a settlement plan that included the retirement of two of Dayton Power & Light’s (DP&L) coal-fired power plants, J.M. Stuart and Killen Stations.
“… Murray Energy, a coal supplier to the Killen and Stuart plants, is directly and adversely affected by the now-proposed shutting of those coal-fired, base load plants,” said a motion to intervene filed by attorney John F. Stock, who represented Murray Energy in the PUCO case.
The Heartland Institute echoed Murray Energy on the issue.
DP&L said in a statement that “we have completed a thorough review of our options and it has become clear that, without significant changes in market conditions, the plants will not be economically viable beyond mid-2018.”
Back in 2014, Robert Murray publicly sent letters to the chairman of PUCO and Governor Kasich that supported an earlier FirstEnergy proposal to bail out the Sammis coal plant.
“We are witnessing a political power grab of America’s power grid by the Administration of President Barack Obama and his supporters,” Murray said in his 2014 letters. “This power grab has bypassed the states, their utility commissions, and the United States House and Senate.”
“Murray Energy Corporation is a key coal supplier to FirstEnergy’s Sammis Generation Station,” Murray also disclosed in the letters.
Rumors that the Trump administration may seek to use the Department of Energy’s Emergency Section 202 authority under the Federal Power Act to prop up failing coal-fired power plants continue to circulate in 2018.
A spokesperson for Murray Energy recently told the Washington Examiner that “invoking this provision would be an excellent action by the DOE,” a statement that confirms Murray Energy’s enthusiasm for government intervention on behalf of the coal and utility industries.
Renewable energy is affordable, and helps to generate jobs and protect public health and the environment
Ohio is home to 105,443 clean energy jobs, according to a 2017 report by Environmental Entrepreneurs.
The Buckeye State is just one of 29 states with a RPS in place, and the latest research by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that the overall cost of those policies in 2015 only “equates to 1.6% of average retail electricity bills in RPS states.”
Other research by the Department of Energy’s National Labs has found that the economic, environmental, and health benefits of RPS policies far exceed the costs, a trend that is projected to continue in the future.
A January 2018 poll shows that Murray Energy is losing debate in the free market of ideas on energy policy, as Ohioans of all political stripes support renewable energy standards, and oppose bailing out Big Coal.
Dave Anderson is the policy and communications manager for Energy and Policy Institute. This article was first published on the Energy and Policy Institute site, and has been reprinted with permission.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.