The unprecedented move essentially amounts to a second attempt to bail out coal and nuclear power plants. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry proposed a rule last year that would require regional markets to compensate coal and nuclear plants for the reliability they provide to the grid. However, a bipartisan group of five regulators unanimously rejected that plan.
The White House memo, made public on Friday, shows the Trump administration is now turning to a familiar strategy: pushing through a policy on the basis of national security. The White House has also invoked that argument to justify slapping tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum and proposing duties on imported automobiles, including against key allies Canada, Mexico and Europe.
"To promote the national defense and maximize domestic energy supplies, federal action is necessary to stop the further premature retirements of fuel-secure generation capacity," the report says.
Coal and nuclear power plants are retiring ahead of schedule, primarily due to competition from natural gas-fired facilities and renewable solar and wind farms.
The plan is to tap Section 202 of the Federal Power Act, which gives the secretary of Energy the authority to keep plants running in times of war or emergency. The department will also cite the Defense Production Act, which gives the president wide-ranging power to "influence domestic industry in the interest of national defense," according to the Congressional Research Service.
The scheme would be in place for two years until a study on the U.S. grid's reliability concludes. During that time, the administration will direct organizations that run the nation's regional grids to purchase enough electric power from generators to prevent them from retiring, decommissioning or deactivating.
The White House and Energy Department did not return multiple requests to verify the authenticity of the draft proposal, which was first reported by Bloomberg News and later posted online.
Reviving the coal industry was a core promise President Donald Trump made to voters, but the long-term trend of coal plant retirements has continued under his watch. Since Trump was elected, 36 coal plants have retired and 30 have announced they will close, according to a count kept by the environmental group Sierra Club.
If implemented, the administration's proposal would bolster Trump's energy industry allies like Robert Murray, the chairman and CEO of coal miner Murray Energy, who asked Perry to invoke emergency powers to keep coal plants from shuttering.