Heartland Institute’s pro-coal lobbying isn’t working in Missouri

The Heartland Institute — a free market think tank known for its efforts to promote climate science denial — is lobbying to keep one of the country’s oldest coal-fired power plants alive. But it doesn’t seem to be working.

In a letter dated January 30 and publicly disclosed on February 9 by the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC), Heartland director John Nothdurft asked PSC Chairman Daniel Hall for a private meeting to discuss the closure of the 65-year-old Meramec coal plant. The request follows Ameren’s plans, submitted to PSC last fall, to shift from coal towards investing in more renewable energy.

The Meramec power plant near St. Louis, Missouri is due to be shut down in 2022. The decision is largely uncontroversial, with many residents and environmental groups calling for the plant to close sooner than that.

The plant’s owner, utility company Ameren Corp., told the Missouri PSC in 2014 that it would no longer keep the coal plant in operation beyond 2022 because the cost of keeping it running — hundreds of millions of dollars — “cannot be supported by the economics of the plant.”

The Heartland Institute said in its letter that even though the decision “may increase Ameren’s profits,” closing the coal plant and building more solar and wind power instead would “harm Missouri residents, businesses, and manufacturers.” This is because shifting to renewables would make electricity “more expensive and less reliable” the letter states — an argument often used by opponents of renewable energy, despite the rapidly declining cost of solar and wind power.

“The people of Missouri deserve better than California-style energy policies,” Nothdurft writes in the letter, first reported on by E&E. Attached to the letter is a report on why closing coal plants hurts the country’s electricity supply. It’s co-authored by Fred Palmer, a former coal executive for Peabody Energy who now works for Heartland.

Heartland’s request, however, doesn’t appear to have been received in the way the organization might have hoped. The PSC’s press officer, Kevin Kelly, told ThinkProgress via email that Hall has not met with Heartland “and has had no communication with Heartland.”

Hall wasn’t the only one to receive the “unsolicited letter” — it was sent to all of the PSC commissioners. None of them have met with Heartland either, according to Kelly.

The Heartland Institute did not respond to a request for comment from ThinkProgress about the letter.

Across the country, the unfavorable economics of coal continue to drive its decline. Coal plants continue to shutter and U.S. coal production rates are dropping. This is largely due to a combination of more affordable alternatives — such as cheaper solar, wind, battery storage and natural gas — along with automation replacing the jobs previously done by mine workers.

And in the case of the Meramec plant, the cost required to bring it in line with environmental rules to decrease its pollution was more than it was worth to keep it running.

In spite of these trends, President Donald Trump continues to promote the polluting fossil fuel. In addition to the coal industry’s close relationship with the administration — including Peabody recently providing the Energy Department input on how to boost coal plants — the Heartland Institute has also claimed credit for much of the current administration’s energy policy decisions.

According to a statement issued by Heartland President Tim Huelskamp following last month’s State of the Union address, the think tank “has been advising many in the administration on climate and energy policy, so we were certainly encouraged and excited the president promoted his pro-energy, pro-America vision in his State of the Union address.” In the case of the Missouri coal plant, though, Heartland and the administration seem to be out of step with the reality on the ground.