Hari Sreenivasan: The operators of coal and nuclear power plants got a boost from the Trump administration this week. The president ordered energy secretary Rick Perry to prepare immediate steps to stop the often unprofitable plants from shutting down. Proposals include ordering power-grid operators to buy electricity from coal and nuclear plants even though natural gas and alternative energy sources are considered cleaner environmental options. Bloomberg reporter Jennifer Dlouhy obtained an internal memo outlining these controversial proposals, and she joins us now from Washington, D.C. First, what is the administration trying to do?
Jennifer Dlouhy: Well, I mean, they're essentially looking at an extraordinary intervention in the power markets to try to save these coal and nuclear power plants that are struggling to make money in the face of competition from cheap natural gas. And they've dusted off the law books and settled essentially on two pretty obscure statutes to try to do this, to order grid operators to buy power from these at-risk plants, these plants at risk of closure; and to set up a national electric production reserve to help in times of emergency.
Hari Sreenivasan: So, is the rationale then that this is a national security issue, that the grid needs to be stable?
Jennifer Dlouhy: Absolutely. They're asserting that this is a national security concern, that the grid is threatened by the premature closures of these plants. You know, they argue that, you know, nuclear plants and coal power plant, they have fuel on site, so they're a little bit more durable and resilient. They can snap back more quickly after an emergency or cyber attack. This is the assertion that the energy department is making, and they're saying, you know, our defense department installations are 99% dependent on the U.S. Electric grid, and that the grid itself is threatened when coal plants and nuclear plants retire because that means that we have more natural gas power, we're more dependent on natural gas power, and we're more dependent on renewable power that doesn't get produced around the clock.
Hari Sreenivasan: Another line of thinking would be if the military is so dependent on specific types of energy, shouldn't they actually diversify to make sure that they have resiliency after a storm? I'm assuming that some of the critics are pointing to a different type of logic here.
Jennifer Dlouhy: Right, absolutely. You know, the critics say that you can make our grid more durable. And in fact it has become more reliable because it is becoming more diverse by, you know, we're getting our power increasingly from a wider array of sources and that that actually helps buffer us from emergencies. You know, what's interesting is the energy department and the administration is rooting its argument here in national security, probably partly for legal reasons, to help buffer them from a legal challenge down the road. But the energy department's own analysis has found that the grid is more reliable because it has power coming from a wider array of sources.
Hari Sreenivasan: The speaking of those legal challenges, I'm assuming this is gonna get sorted out in the courts. Nothing actually happened as of yesterday or tomorrow. What's the likely timeline of this now?
Jennifer Dlouhy: Well, I think we're looking at... most analysts I talked to look at the memo that I obtained and the action that we've seen over the past couple of days and think some action is going to happen in coming weeks. It will probably be a directive from the energy department spelling out, you know, the logistics of this plan, exactly what grid operators have to do. But opponents, you know, whether it's the oil industry, the wind producers and environmentalists, they've all indicated that they plan to march right into federal court and to file challenges to this. Again, you know, I think the fact that the energy department is rooting this in national security is an effort to insulate itself. It is also a temporary intervention planned for only two years. But the courts will decide. I think that's almost a given at this point.
Hari Sreenivasan: Jennifer Dlouhy from Bloomberg joining us from Washington, thanks so much.
Jennifer Dlouhy: Thank you.