The Changing of the Guard

There’s a new sheriff in town—Washington, D.C., that is. President Donald Trump has taken the reins from Barack Obama, and he’s come out with guns blazing. It’s true—the new administration has wasted little time shaking things up since taking office.

While hundreds, if not thousands, of pages have been written by the media about President Trump’s selections of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State, billionaire Betsy DeVos to run the Department of Education, and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as the new U.S. Attorney General, the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is probably the pick that will have the greatest influence on the power industry.

An Industry Friendly EPA

Many environmental groups and left-wing politicians point to the 14 lawsuits Pruitt has filed against the EPA as a reason for concern. Yet, Pruitt has suggested, to anyone who will listen, that he was just doing his job. While being grilled by Democratic senators during his confirmation hearing, Pruitt said, “The efforts that I took as attorney general were representing the interests of the state of Oklahoma.” Regardless of all of the partisan rhetoric, it is very likely that Pruitt will be confirmed, because Republicans control the process.

But no matter who is in charge of the EPA, the power industry can expect some significant changes to take place under the Trump administration. One of its first moves after the inauguration was to order a freeze on federal grant spending by the EPA and to stop all of the agency’s external communications, both of which have since been relaxed, at least to some extent. The administration also performed a near-total scrubbing of the words “climate change” from the EPA’s website.

Soon after Trump took office, the White House’s website was updated too, adding “An America First Energy Plan” to its pages. The plan says, “President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.” It also says the administration is “committed to clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry.”

However, one executive thinks reviving the coal industry will be a tall task. In December, I spoke to Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corp., the largest underground coal mining company in the U.S. Murray said he asked then President-elect Trump to temper his comments about bringing coal miners back and bringing coal back. “It will not happen,” Murray said. “The destruction that has happened is permanent.”

While it’s true that countless coal-mining jobs have already been lost, rumors are that many EPA jobs may also be in jeopardy. Myron Ebell, President Trump’s EPA transition team leader, told the Associated Press that slicing the 15,000-person staff in half would be a good start. Of course, Ebell’s opinion is not policy, but The New York Times reported that Pruitt has a blueprint to cut staffing levels and close some regional offices so it’s very likely to be a leaner EPA in the near future.

Power Employment

Jobs around Washington aren’t the only ones that have been changing. A week before President Trump took office, the Department of Energy released its 2017 “U.S. Energy and Employment Report.” The report notes that 860,869 workers are directly employed in the electric power generation industry, which covers all utility employment across electric generating technologies including fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewable energy. It also includes firms engaged in facility construction, turbine and other generation equipment manufacturing, as well as wholesale parts distribution of all electric generation technologies.

One of the most surprising things to me was the number of solar employees—373,807—tallied by the authors. The figure was 154,631 more than the total number of workers employed in the nuclear and fossil fuel (coal, oil, and natural gas) electric power generation subsectors combined. Solar employment had grown by nearly 25% year-over-year, with many of the jobs being construction related, resulting from the significant buildout of new solar generation capacity. Job growth in the wind category was even stronger—about 32%—but total employment in wind energy was only slightly more than a quarter that of solar workers (101,738).

POWER Employment

Just as change seems inevitable throughout the power industry, change is also a fact of life in the media business. For regular readers of this column, I’m sure it hasn’t gone unnoticed that long-time POWER editor Gail Reitenbach is not the author of this month’s edition. It is with some regret that I announce that she is no longer a member of the POWER team.

Gail spent about 14 years with the magazine. She is a dedicated professional and was a great mentor to me personally. Her keen attention to detail and interest in the power industry made her a valuable resource not just for staff, but also for all POWER readers. She will be missed.

For those who don’t know me, my background is in operations and maintenance. I spent about 25 years (including time in the U.S. Navy) working in the industry at nuclear, biomass, and coal power plants. I have been with POWER magazine for more than three years now and look forward to taking on my new role as executive editor.

Dorothy Lozowski has assumed the role of editorial director for POWER magazine, as well as for Chemical Engineering magazine, where she has been editor in chief. She holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering and will be a great new resource for the POWER team.

Reporter Abby L. Harvey has also been added to the lineup. Abby has been covering energy and climate change for GHG Monitor and is heavily involved in the Carbon Capture, Utilization & Storage Conference, which is co-located with the ELECTRIC POWER Conference & Exhibition in Chicago, Ill., April 10–13, 2017. Abby’s first POWER article, “Cooling Towers: Efficiency Waiting to Happen,” can be found starting on page 28 of this issue. ■

PWR_110113_SOP_AaronLarson—Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor.