Keep favoritism out of energy policy

Two wrongs don’t make a right, even if the first was very, very wrong — harmful in a way to tens of millions of Americans.

For eight years, former President Barack Obama’s administration did all it could to kill the coal industry and shut down coal-fired power plants. Part of the strategy was to shovel billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to solar and wind power enterprises, some of which could not survive even with Obama’s help.

During less than a year in office, President Donald Trump has done much to restore a sensible energy policy. Some of the Obama-era damage is irreversible, however, in the form of abandoned coal-fired generating units. Many Americans are paying higher electric bills as a result.

Now, Trump’s administration has a proposal aimed at helping the coal and nuclear power industries. As Energy Secretary Rick Perry has outlined it, the plan would change the way electricity is priced, to reward utilities with coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

The idea has more appeal than simply making up for the wrong done during the Obama era. As Perry notes, one reason to encourage use of coal and nuclear energy is to ensure the nation has a reliable power grid. While solar and wind power are notoriously inconsistent, fossil and nuclear fuels produce electricity on demand.

But many critics, including some in the power industry, object. They are urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reject the weighted-pricing plan.

The critics are right, for two reasons.

First, pressuring or encouraging utilities to switch back to coal from other fuel sources — primarily natural gas — could cost consumers money.

Second, government favoritism toward any energy sector is wrong. The market and realistic, not artificially inflated, environmental factors should decide what fuels will be used.

Favoritism during the Obama administration was wrong. Reversing it 180 degrees also would be wrong.

The Trump administration should continue on its path of attempting to restore a level playing field in the energy industry.