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White House Reportedly Exploring Wartime Rule To Help Coal, Nuclear (arstechnica.com) 308

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: According to reports from Bloomberg and E&E News, the Trump Administration has been exploring another way to help coal and nuclear generators: the Defense Production Act of 1950. The Act was passed under President Truman. Motivated by the Korean War, it allows the president broad authority to boost U.S. industries that are considered a priority for national security. On Thursday, E&E News cited sources that said "an interagency process is underway" at the White House to examine possible application of the act to the energy industry. The goal would be to give some form of preference to coal and nuclear plants that are struggling to compete with cheap natural gas.

If the DOE decides not to invoke Section 202(c), the president may turn to the Defense Production Act. According to a 2014 summary report (PDF) from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the act would allow the president to "demand priority for defense-related products," "provide incentives to develop, modernize, and expand defense productive capacity," and establish "a voluntary reserve of trained private sector executives available for emergency federal employment," among other powers. (Some even more permissive applications of the Act were terminated in 1957.) Using the Act to protect coal and nuclear facilities would almost certainly be more controversial, as the link between national defense and keeping uneconomic coal generators running is not well-established.
The Administration could apply the Act to "provide or guarantee loans to industry" for material-specific deliveries and production. "The president may also authorize the purchase of 'industrial items or technologies for installation in government or private industrial facilities,'" reports Ars.
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White House Reportedly Exploring Wartime Rule To Help Coal, Nuclear

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  • by AutodidactLabrat ( 3506801 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @01:11PM (#56484213)
    Seems that the fabled fossil fuel industries must be carefully fed taxpayer dollars just to stay afloat.
    So who's the leech here, oil barons?
    Solar? Wind? Geothermal? Biomass?
    Nope, it's YOU fools.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 22, 2018 @01:19PM (#56484275)

      Yeah. Because of fracking in the USA and Russian natural gas producers and others World wide, the price of Natural Gas plummeted to where is was much cheaper than coal. Power plants that had no legal reason to do so, switched to NG because it was cheaper.

      The Free Market in action.

      But it hurt the coal miners. And they paid off certain Senators like, Mitch McConnell and Orin Hatch to lie and say the Obama administration started a "war on coal." (He backtracked after Trump was elected.)

      Hannity and Limbaugh (both liars themselves) propagated the lie among their gullible listeners as well as Trolls on facecbook and other places.

      Bit as we see, it was all the coal miners bribing Republican Senators to keep their outdated business profitable for themselves.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 22, 2018 @02:13PM (#56484527)

        Republicans are all about subsidizing broken, obsolete or flawed ideas. It's their entire platform, while pretending to be against big deficit spending (for a few years)

      • by gtall ( 79522 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @05:04PM (#56485207)

        I don't think the coal industry has enough money to make big contributions to Republicans. Rather, I think the Republicans are playing on the notion that coal will save the states where there are enough fools in those states to think coal could do this.

        As for the Republicans blaming Obama for a "war on coal", in some sense it doesn't matter what Obama did, they'd have picked on something else. They needed an "issue" and the "war on coal" guaranteed them Republican voters. Those states never bought into the whole Environment Degradation issue that is central to Democrats. The voters in those states more or less have a Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to coal. Coal can foul their air and their water, but they understand coal, they do not understand Env. Deg. E. D. doesn't provide jobs. The whole fact that coal doesn't provide many jobs and what jobs it does are being automated away is lost on the voters in those states.

        Nothing the White House can do on coal will save it, natural gas will eat the part of the lunch it hasn't already eaten. I'm unsure about nuclear. If the W.H. were serious about nuclear, they'd solve the waste issue first...but they aren't serious, and solving it would be unglamorous, take a lot of time, require far reaching policy decisions...in short, just what the Republicans are no good at.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          Here's a does of fiscal reality. Coal is fucked, they know it, dirty to mine, dirty to use and high cost to extract, store and transport. So why pump up coal. Easy shit current share price, make all sorts of promise to protect industry, up goes the share price. Insiders dump their shares when the price is high. Then of course, meh, coal industry to hard to preserve, doesn't make sense, won't do it. BOOM, down crashes share price, helped along with shorts by the insiders who sold high based upon empty promis

        • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

          by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Coal is something that Trump understands and can do something about by gutting the EPA, introducing tariffs and funnelling them federal money.

          Republicans care much more about Obamacare, but are too dumb to do anything about it. Who knew healthcare was so complex?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mikael ( 484 )

        So if they can modernize the coal stations so that they don't emit carbon soot that would be a good thing. There are systems to scrub and collect all those gases and pollutants. Same with nuclear power. The old slashdot joke states that the nuclear industry wanted to decommission old plants and build new ones. The environmentalists wanted no more new plants and to decommission the old ones. So they compromised. Keep the old plants running and don't build any new plants.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          The problem is that the scrubbers cost a lot of money and are not 100% effective. So if you have a finite amount of money to invest in power generation you have to choose between cleaning up coal, gambling on nuclear or putting it into rapidly growing renewables.

          Even if you don't care about the environment it's clear that renewables and energy storage are the better investment and the general direction in which everything is moving.

      • it was all the coal miners

        This isn't hard; repeat after me: "Coal Mining Companies." Coal miners are just folks desperate enough to feed their families that they're willing to endure [what for most Westerners] are dangerous, unhealthy and unimaginably unpleasant working conditions.

    • peaking plants (Score:4, Interesting)

      by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @02:18PM (#56484561)

      Natural gas is not merely cheap, it also has a relatively low time to spool up for on-demand loads. Coal has a much harder time. Solar and wind have both problems with intermittency and peak loads. While grids can smooth that a bit there's no solution for that in the power source itself. Someday we will have flow batteries to handle surges and bridge short intermittencies, but even when those become technologically mature it's not likely they will have capacities in the giga-joule hour range. So that means some sort of base production with reasonably fast spin up times.

      Germany perversely solves this problem by burning coal (cause it's cheaper there than gas, and nukes are out). They solve the spin up time problem by just running the plants all the time whether power is needed or not, then selling the power they don't need to their neighbors over the grid. Sometimes they even sell at a loss. It makes sense to sell at a loss since some money is better than no money if you were going to produce the power anyhow. So ironically the more they deploy solar the more coal they burn.

      But if we do have things like flow batteries working for us, it's not just good for solar. It's also good for nuclear power too. These have slower spin up times than gas, but they may be cheaper (depending on how you factor in the externalities of waste and CO2 pollution and mining and fracking). So having stored energy like a battery also helps these become a reliable power source too.

      Thus it seems like the future ideal power mix is Nuke+Solar/wind+battery and some off line gas plants for emergencies.

      • Re:peaking plants (Score:5, Informative)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @03:21PM (#56484831)

        it's not likely they will have capacities in the giga-joule hour range.

        A giga-joule/hour is 277 kW. A single modern wind turbine generates ten times that much.

        • by bidule ( 173941 )

          it's not likely they will have capacities in the giga-joule hour range.

          A giga-joule/hour is 277 kW. A single modern wind turbine generates ten times that much.

          That answer has nothing to do with "Someday we will have flow batteries".

          At least you weren't alone to miss the point.

        • Bill, minor mistake; 1 gigajoule = 277 kwh.
          Otherwise, yeah, you are spot on. These new 8-10 MW wind generators are taller and in much better wind. Those are working at typically 50-60% of the time.
      • Don't forget to add geo-thermal in that mix, but you have to 100% otherwise.
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by ( 4475953 )

      Nuclear is very powerful! Listen carefully to what the President of the United States of America has to say about that:

      Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I'm one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you're a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what's going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what's going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it's all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don't, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 22, 2018 @01:13PM (#56484237)

    The horseshoers of America have been having a tough time as of late since the Army isn't using as many warhorses as they used to. #MakeAmericaShodAgain

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 22, 2018 @03:12PM (#56484801)

      I don't mean to nag but there are too many neighsayers for that to work.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Sure, it may not provide a stable income like in its hayday, but ponying up the money should reign in those complaining they've been saddled with a raw deal. It's only a few bucks.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 22, 2018 @01:24PM (#56484307)

    Coal is not clean at all. It causes lots of air pollution, especially in the form of carbon. The carbon dioxide is causing global temperatures to rapidly warm and is threatening mass extinctions. Yet you right wing nutjobs are obsessed with coal. Your obsession with coal is helping to destroy the Earth, along with your obsession with huge SUVs that waste gasoline. Why do you right wing nutjobs hate the Earth?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 22, 2018 @01:48PM (#56484413)

      Why do you right wing nutjobs hate the Earth?

      They don't hate the Earth, They love power at any cost. Evil is not about I think I'll pollute the earth today because I'm evil. Evil is about not giving a fuck about polluting the Earth because by helping this group they can help keep their power to do other things.

      It is power and control at any cost. Some of their coalition no doubt even care about certain issues and so the Faustian bargain continues because they must have power to advance those issues, so will turn a blind eye to everything else and what is more they will rationalize _anything_ for their people because they advance their key issues.

      Many of them truly believe in their moral cause, and that is what is so scary. Even now Trump has a really good approval rating among republicans, and no amount of corruption is going to change it, because they truly see it as the lesser evil.

      Hell the one and only saving grace about Trump is he seems to care about nothing but his own brand. If he was a zealot of some kind we might be in three more wars by now. That doesn't mean he isn't doing enormous damage to our country and our planet and to simple standards of human decency. He is. It just means it could be worse.

    • Why do you right wing nutjobs hate the Earth?

      The big effects of climate change are several decades into the future, propping up coal wins votes in 3 years time.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Coal is not clean at all. It causes lots of air pollution

      This, exactly.

      It's time to double down on nuclear plant construction.

      • Coal is not clean at all. It causes lots of air pollution

        This, exactly.

        It's time to double down on nuclear plant construction.

        Double down on nuclear power and double up on your power bill. Ask the folks in Georgia who've been paying about $100/year extra for the Vogtle nuclear plants since 2011. That's over $2 billion Georgia Power has collected so far. And so far those plants are $4+ billion over budget and 3 years behind schedule. Do you really like paying extra for your power so you can get nuclear?

  • by Ayano ( 4882157 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @01:26PM (#56484317)
    Even if you cut renewables out, Natural Gas is cheaper to extract, requires fewer workers, and is safer both to burn and acquire. This isn't propping up fossil fuels, this is preferring an industry whose workforce doesn't want to adapt or change.
    • by taiwanjohn ( 103839 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @02:14PM (#56484531)

      preferring an industry whose workforce doesn't want to adapt or change

      More to the point, it's about preferring any policy option that will make liberals cry. If they actually gave a crap about reality, they'd be pushing investment in infrastructure and human capital to accelerate the transition to a sustainable economy (kinda like China is doing). But no, this is just pure, spiteful politics to gin-up their base and ass-kiss their donors. Not much to see here...

      • by skids ( 119237 )

        Politically, yes, it's pretty much just hippie punching, though aimed at currying support from the brain-addled Trump base, rather than centrists. There is almost definitely a financial layer to it, given that the whole administration is a giant shakedown.

    • Even if you cut renewables out, Natural Gas is cheaper to extract, requires fewer workers,

      I don't think that's often the case any more. A lot of coal is done with huge strip mining operations now, which have vast diggers and trucks and takes much fewer people to operate than an underground operation. The big mining companies prefer that because it's cheaper. The sad thing is of course that the miners voted for pro coal politicians, but they support the companies which are reducing the workforce anyway.

      They

    • Even if you cut renewables out, Natural Gas is cheaper to extract, requires fewer workers, and is safer both to burn and acquire. This isn't propping up fossil fuels, this is preferring an industry whose workforce doesn't want to adapt or change.

      And "natural" gas IS a fossil fuel. It is a marketing name the fossil gas industry came up with to make it sound friendlier.

      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        Natural gas was called that long before "natural" came to mean "good" to hippies.

        It's called that because it is, well, naturally occurring and seeps out of the ground in gaseous form. The Chinese were capturing it and piping it around for heating stuff up in 500 BC.

        It's also a fossil fuel. Virtually all fossil fuels are naturally occurring.

        • Natural gas was called that long before "natural" came to mean "good" to hippies.

          It's called that because it is, well, naturally occurring and seeps out of the ground in gaseous form. The Chinese were capturing it and piping it around for heating stuff up in 500 BC.

          It's also a fossil fuel. Virtually all fossil fuels are naturally occurring.

          It wasn't called natural gas originally though. Because it predates non-natural gas by a millenia or more.

        • Virtually all fossil fuels are naturally occurring.

          I think that's kind of implied by using the word "fossil".

  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @01:27PM (#56484319) Homepage
    Seriously, we have been at war in the Middle East for decades for one reason: energy. It's why we had Gulf War I, Gulf War II, and so many others. Fun fact, did you know the reason we refuse to withdraw from Syria despite the fact that ISIS has been defeated is energy? Yup. A proposed pipeline to supply from Qatar to Europe would weaken Russian influence. That's why we can't stop making war there. So let's not trot out the fiction that energy has nothing to do with national security, because it absolutely does.
    • If that's true about Iraq, then why didn't we take their oil after we invaded?

  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @01:36PM (#56484377)

    I keep hearing all this bullshit from one side of the aisle about the "free market" being the best thing ever but then when the free market stops promoting their favorite industries then they suddenly need to swoop in and bail them out. What's worse is that they are rapidly expending shared capital: our uncontaminated environment.

    The truth of the matter is that goods (including energy generation) should have to pay for the pollution caused by their production. That money can then in turn be used to remove said pollution from the environment. This is how the free market should really be and it would be utterly devastating to regressive industries that pay no mind to the damage they do to our environment.

    Unleash the free market and destroy those who are hellbent on destroying the planet.

    • Well for years they went on and on about how important it was to cut the deficit (and debt) too but as soon as they could they increased both by a massive amount in order to bring in a massive tax cut to the rich and to companies.

  • by Elfich47 ( 703900 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @01:54PM (#56484429)
    A big issue is this: Coal has been steadily automating its mining systems. In 1950 underground mining was at the rate of 0.68 tons per man hour and surface mining was at the rate of 1.9 tons/manhour. By 2011 underground mining was at the rate of 2.76 tons/man hour and surface mining was at 8.8 tons/man hour. There were productivity peaks in 2003 of 4.04 and 10.75 tons/man hour.

    So assuming coal had maintained the same level of production between 1950 and 2011, the coal industry would have shed 75% of its manpower due to automation and has proven it can get to 80% reduction if it needs to. Then add in the reduction in coal consumption and it is a no-brainer as to why no one is being hired to work in the mines.

    So it Trump tries to boost coal consumption (which is the goal of his actions here); more coal may get produced and purchased, but very few additional workers will be hired. If anything, the mine owners will buy more automated equipment.

    Its not like any local town is going to build a coal power plant. Those take years of planning, approvals, oversight, and construction. Power plant planning and construction can easily take five to ten years, beginning to end. So any of this "make people buy more coal" rhetoric is not going to produce more jobs in any of the coal towns that are out there.

    Cited Reference:
    https://www.eia.gov/totalenerg... [eia.gov]
    • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @03:39PM (#56484889)

      A big issue is this: Coal has been steadily automating its mining systems. In 1950 underground mining was at the rate of 0.68 tons per man hour and surface mining was at the rate of 1.9 tons/manhour. By 2011 underground mining was at the rate of 2.76 tons/man hour and surface mining was at 8.8 tons/man hour. There were productivity peaks in 2003 of 4.04 and 10.75 tons/man hour.

      Pretty much this. It is nothing short of amazing how quickly a few men can tear a mountain apart to extract the coal in it. I had a lot of relatives that worked in coal back in the day. Now, not one. Even jobs you would think were safe have been eliminated by just making the machines bigger. Like this http://www.mining.com/belaz-la... [mining.com]

      A mere 450 tonne payload, twin turbo diesels, and 65 Km/Hr speed. These trucks can be filled by the likes of "Big Muskie" (no longer in service) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] which could do 220 cubic yards per scoop. We can build 'em as big as you want - in fact bigger than most mines will ever need

      The only way that the Trumpian/Miner coal jobs wet dream will ever materialize is by returning to the good old days of this: https://i.pinimg.com/736x/af/2... [pinimg.com] , this, https://c8.alamy.com/comp/DAHJ... [alamy.com] and this https://upload.wikimedia.org/w... [wikimedia.org]

      Gains in employment will be obtained by using mules in the mines, making the use of steam drills and jumbos and road headers illegal, just human and mule power, picks and shovels.

      Otherwise, as you point out, coal mining is pretty darn automated. This is yet another "jerbs, Jerbs, JERBS! event, where people who might not think out the whole situation are promised jerbs, and are pursuaded to vote for people who have no intention of making jobs for them, or perhaps aren't thinking either.

      The math is simply not there.

    • A big issue is this: Coal has been steadily automating its mining systems. In 1950 underground mining was at the rate of 0.68 tons per man hour and surface mining was at the rate of 1.9 tons/manhour. By 2011 underground mining was at the rate of 2.76 tons/man hour and surface mining was at 8.8 tons/man hour. There were productivity peaks in 2003 of 4.04 and 10.75 tons/man hour.

      Furthermore underground coal is only about 1/3 of U.S. production, and it is steadily declining. As the market for coal shrinks those high-labor cost underground mines are going to close first.

      Coal production is down by 25% of the last few years, and no one expects the trend-line to change, least of all coal companies who have not bid for one new lease in the last few years. The have instead been abandon leases they have already sunk some money into.

    • by dohzer ( 867770 )

      So it Trump tries to boost coal consumption (which is the goal of his actions here); more coal may get produced and purchased, but very few additional workers will be hired. If anything, the mine owners will buy more automated equipment.

      And what... you think Trump cares about getting people jobs?

  • by somepunk ( 720296 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @02:01PM (#56484477) Homepage

    Is more R&D into advanced GenIV designs like MSR, VHTR, or small modular reactors, and a less punishing regulatory review process. We are abdicating our leadership to China, India, and Europe.

    • by Knightman ( 142928 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @03:14PM (#56484807)

      The funny thing about MSR is that the US had experimental reactors running and had tons of knowledge about them, but it was more or less deep sixed since LWR was the way to go so the military could get their fissionables for atomic weapons.

      All meltdowns to date (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl & Fukushima) has been LWR's. Due to how LWR's function they are all accidents waiting to happen if their cooling breaks down.

      China is busy trying to get Thorium MSR's up and running since they are better in all aspects compared to LWR, and Thorium is a much more abundant ore than Uranium.

      • The funny thing about MSR is that the US had experimental reactors running and had tons of knowledge about them, but it was more or less deep sixed since LWR was the way to go so the military could get their fissionables for atomic weapons.

        No country has ever produced "fissionables" for atomic weapons with a LWR.

        • Yes they have, it's just that they are unusable until they are separated and enriched from the spent fuel.

    • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @03:57PM (#56484969)

      Is more R&D into advanced GenIV designs like MSR, VHTR, or small modular reactors, and a less punishing regulatory review process. We are abdicating our leadership to China, India, and Europe.

      We don't need that research becaus Nuclear is perfectly safe already. We need laws forcing building plants before any other power source is considered. Except for coal. Coal needs plants built before nuc except where nuc plants are built before coal.

      While that might sound sarcastic, it is the basic premise of Trump's concept.

      By the way - if we declare that coal and it's mining is a critical defense need, what happens to the 88 million metric tons that we exported in 2017? https://www.platts.com/latest-... [platts.com] What the hell kind of country exports that much of a critical strategic product? Sounds like aiding and abetting possible enemies of our country. This must end and end now! America's future is at stake.

  • by amorsen ( 7485 ) <benny+slashdot@amorsen.dk> on Sunday April 22, 2018 @02:19PM (#56484567)

    We've always been at war with Eurasia.

  • is revealed more each day and it is staggering.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @03:22PM (#56484837)

    The time period seems quite in line with Trump’s thinking on most things.

  • Once upon a time, not long ago, I was generally headed for Vermont and was prepared to encourage my children to settle there also. As a place of natural beauty it ranks highly with many other places, but in uncertain times I felt drawn there for another reason, one in keeping with my technical interests and survivalist tendency.

    You see, I wanted to join the folks at Vermont Yankee. Vermont Yankee was the greatest jewel mankind had yet produced: a nuclear power plant connected by direct and exclusive feede

    • You need to remember that Vermont Yankee had a design lifetime of 40 years, which it met with reasonable success. I always worry about what the thoughtful engineers of old were thinking when they said that the plant would last that long. There are a couple of aspects to this.

      First and foremost, Nuclear power in its present state is completely unforgiving. While there are newer designs that overcome many of the problems, the fact remains Vermont was an aging nuclear plant. One of the cooling towers collapsed

  • Nuclear and coal are almost opposite when it comes to power generation
    Coal: Cheap upfront, expensive fuel, lots of CO2, widespread pollution, low potential for disaster
    Nuclear: Expensive upfront, cheap fuel, almost no CO2, highly localized pollution, possibility of disasters

  • Don't forget the oil industry, they need our tax money too!
  • However, I suspect that he will use it for coal as well, which is stupid and foolish.
    First, we already subsidize coal WAY TOO MUCH.
    Secondly, we are on the right path in that our coal plants have been being shut down. We need to continue this.
    Artificially changing the economics for coal is just plain stupid.

    With nukes, it makes sense, since they are clean and more importantly, if we push SMR tech, it is 100% safe.
    Likewise, we can burn up most of our nuke waste while converting to energy and ideally
  • Is this the famed small government I keep hearing about?

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