President Trump attacked subsidies for “windmills” this week while in upstate New York, but didn’t mention his multi-billion dollar plan to bail out the coal industry, which has backed some of the opposition to new wind farms around the country. 

“You need subsidies for windmills,” Trump said during his remarks on Monday in Utica at a fundraiser for Rep. Claudia Tenney. “Who wants energy where you need a subsidy?”

NBC News posted a video of Trump’s remarks on wind power on Twitter. A video of the president’s full remarks is available here.

A 2018 Gallup poll found that 76 percent of Americans do in fact support “Spending more government money on developing wind and solar power.

The same poll found only 32 percent are in favor of “Spending government money to support the coal industry.”

President Trump ordered Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to bail out struggling coal and nuclear power plants, after a leaked memo revealed the administration’s plans. The order came after intense lobbying by the electric utility FirstEnergy and coal producers like Murray Energy. Estimates put the price tag for Trump’s bailout plan in the billions of dollars per year.

Glenn Kellow, the CEO of the coal company Peabody Energy, has gone as far as to call for a government-imposed moratorium on coal plant retirements.

A majority of Americans also believe that the federal government is doing too little to protect the environment, as the Trump administration rolls back key protections targeted for elimination by the coal industry.

Trumped up claims about coal, wind power, and national security

“Subsidies distort markets and should be used only when national security is at stake,” the Trump campaign said in 2016 in response to an American Energy Alliance candidate questionnaire.

The American Energy Alliance is the advocacy arm of the Institute for Energy Research, which has received funding from Peabody Energy.

The Trump administration now plans to use national security as a pretense for bailing out the coal industry.

In Utica on Monday, Trump talked about “clean coal” and national security, and he also took a symbolic shot at wind power.

“… in a military way, think of it, coal is indestructible,” Trump said.

“You can blow up a pipeline,” he said. “You can blow up the windmills. You know the windmills? Boom… boom… boom.”

“Bing, that’s the end of that windmill,” Trump added, while mimicking taking a shot with a rifle.

Screenshot from a Fox News video of Trump’s speech in Utica

Coal-fired power plants are not indestructible. The now-bankrupt FirstEnergy Solutions is trying to get out of an expensive coal contract with a subsidiary of Murray Energy, in part due to damage caused by a fire earlier this year at the Bruce Mansfield power plant, one of the coal plants that could benefit from a bailout from the Trump administration.

The coal industry has been caught backing opposition to wind power

Earlier this month, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on documents that revealed Murray Energy’s role in funding opposition to an offshore wind power pilot project on Lake Erie.

Robert Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, responded with a letter to the editor that attacked the federal Production Tax Credit for wind power, but made no mention of Murray’s lobbying of the Trump administration for a bailout for the coal industry.

The news followed earlier reports by Midwest Energy News and the Columbus Dispatch on the Campaign for American Affordable and Reliable Energy, a coal-backed group that was attempting to intervene in other wind power siting cases in Ohio.

In 2016, documents filed in Peabody Energy’s bankruptcy case revealed how the coal producer has funded a number of climate skeptic groups that have teamed up with anti-wind activists to fight new wind farms, including the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, Institute for Energy Research (IER) and Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal).

Trump later recruited personnel from groups like IER and E&E Legal to help staff his transition team and administration at the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy.

One of the anti-wind activists who has worked closely with these groups, John Droz, Jr., operates in upstate New York and has boasted about his ties to Trump insiders. IER hosts Droz’s anti-wind newsletter on its blog, and Droz once served as a senior fellow for E&E Legal, back when it was called the American Tradition Institute.

Droz is also a founder of the anti-wind Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions. Co-founder Tom Stacy started off as an Ohio-based anti-wind activist, and later became a paid consultant for IER

Prior to Trump’s arrival in upstate New York, Droz sent a message to his network anticipating that the president might echo overblown claims about the impacts of wind turbines on military operations while visiting Fort Drum. A follow-up message from Droz that was shared on social media highlighted how Trump had made “disparaging comments about wind power.”  

Posted by Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson is the policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute. Dave has been working at the nexus of clean energy and public policy since 2008. Prior to joining the Energy and Policy Institute, he was an outreach coordinator for the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He is also an alumnus of the Sierra Club and the Alliance for Climate Protection (now the Climate Reality Project). Dave’s research has helped to spur public scrutiny of political attacks on clean energy and climate science by powerful special interests, such as ExxonMobil and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). His work has been cited by major media outlets, such as CBS News and the Wall Street Journal, and he has served as a speaker on panels at national solar industry conferences. Dave holds a MA in Political Science from the University of New Hampshire, where he also received a BA in Humanities.