Jim Justice became a Democrat in 2015 to run for governor of West Virginia, won election, and then thrilled President Donald Trump by becoming a Republican at Trump’s rally in West Virginia last week.
Now he wants his payback.
Justice wants the federal government to pay power plants a $US15 subsidy for every ton of steam coal they burn to generate power. But he only wants them to get the subsidy if the coal is from the eastern United States — coal that comes from more financially viable mines in western states like Wyoming wouldn’t qualify.
Justice told Bloomberg News that Trump is “really interested” in the plan — though of course, Trump sometimes tells people he’s really interested in things in which he’s not really interested. Such a subsidy would have to be approved by Congress, so I don’t think Justice is likely to get it, even if Trump tries to give it to him.
Republican arguments for coal have, historically, had a veneer of cost-consciousness. Coal is getting priced out because of burdensome regulations and clean-energy subsidies, they complain, and this is making electricity more expensive for consumers.
This argument is fair enough if you assume carbon-emissions are cost-free, which they aren’t, but subsidizing coal wouldn’t make any sense even if carbon emissions are irrelevant. Why should taxpayers pay to arbitrarily support one energy industry over another — or even one region of that energy industry over another?
Justice claims the subsidy is necessary as a matter of national security, in case pipelines and railroads get blown up so natural gas and western coal can’t get to eastern power plants, or something.
Really, this proposal only makes sense as a matter of pure political payback: West Virginia now votes strongly for Republicans, its governor just did the president a solid, and now he wants a reward for himself and his voters.
There was a time conservative politicians made a point of shutting down money-losing coal mines. Now they’re talking about subsidizing them.
It’s stupid. But then, so are our times.
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