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As Trump's fossil-fuel 'energy dominance' plan founders, a crucial solar energy decision nears

Keith Schneider, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

During his first year in office, President Donald Trump has guided the ship of state directly into the headwinds of market instability, civic opposition, unstable finance and environmental risk in order to fortify the domestic coal and oil industries.

But this week, the administration's plan to achieve what it termed "American energy dominance" ran aground on the unyielding rocks of law, economy, technology and political miscalculation.

On Monday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission swept aside as ill-advised and unlawful a proposal by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to subsidize old coal and nuclear power plants to keep them operating.

The next day, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke dismissed Florida from his mammoth offshore oil drilling plan, opening to court challenge from other coastal states the legal legitimacy of a proposal that just five days before he promised would make America "the strongest energy superpower."

Both setbacks came as a new report by the Energy Information Administration, a research unit of the Energy Department, projected that utilities were preparing this year to shut down a near-record number of old coal-fired power plants. A coal mine operator announced a closure in Pennsylvania that would end 400 jobs. And oil and gas lease auctions on public lands in Alaska and across the West attracted weak interest from exploration companies.

This wasn't the goal.

Unlike China, Europe and India, which are pivoting to renewable energy and away from coal and oil for economic and environmental reasons, Trump and his aides have focused on making the fuels that ruled the 20th century economically relevant again. He has withdrawn the United States from the Paris climate treaty. He signed one executive order to dismantle President Barack Obama's program to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, and a second to curb "regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production."

Just last week, the administration, under Zinke's plan, proposed to open almost all of the outer continental shelf to offshore energy exploration.

Environmental groups have delighted in watching the administration's fossil-energy campaign founder, and California and other coastal state leaders have called on Zinke to remove their states from the offshore drilling plan.

At the same time, though, one more momentous decision for energy, the economy and the environment awaits the president.

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