As legislation to limit U.S. EPA's power to regulate coal ash hits the House floor this week, environmental advocates see industry footprints all over the bill's language. They say millions of dollars spent in lobbying and campaign contributions have yielded another congressional proposal to block Obama administration environmental oversight -- and have allowed the industry to frame the debate.
"I think they have succeeded in turning the issue into a fight over recycling, whether recycling is good or bad," said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project, in an interview. "Part of that is weight of money and numbers."
Environmentalists largely dismiss concerns that a hazardous designation for coal ash, one of EPA's proposals, would kill recycling efforts. Industry advocates say even the prospect of the label is already having an effect. As with other proposals, they say EPA is going too far with coal ash.
"I think the coal-fired sector is justifiably highly concerned about the rate, timing and content of EPA regulations," Scott Segal, an attorney at Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, said in an interview.
Coal mining and utility donations are pouring in ahead of next year's elections. Worried about job losses and the bottom line, coal boosters are rewarding or promoting those politicians standing up to fight what they call the president's "war on coal." And the bulk of the funding is going to Republicans.
Main warrior, top getter
One of those warriors is freshman Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), sponsor of the bill (H.R. 2273) to prevent EPA from designating coal ash as hazardous. He has racked up more than $187,000 in mining related donations, including coal, more than any other federal candidate this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
McKinley has also done well with utilities, having received roughly $46,000 in related donations, among the top getters.
"West Virginia jobs and every American's quality of life are at stake," McKinley said in a recent statement, "and I will strongly oppose any plan, Republican or Democrat, that makes war on fossil fuels and the working men and women whose families depend on the strength of these industries."
As a whole, the CRP says mining related interests have doled out more than $2.8 million to federal candidates this election cycle with top donors being Murray Energy Corp., the National Mining Association, Alpha Natural Resources Inc. and Arch Coal Co.
Other major coal mining recipients include House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has been critical of the Obama administration's energy policies, especially with relation to coal, was one of the few Democrats on the list of industry favorites.
Alpha CEO Kevin Crutchfield, Federal Election Commission records show, has given recent donations to coal boosters like McKinley, former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), who is attempting a political comeback, and Manchin. The NMA's COALPAC has this year shelled out $5,000 for Manchin, at least $3,500 to Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), and $2,000 for Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.).
Electric utilities as a whole have donated more than $5.9 million, including contributions from individuals connected to the power industry. Top contributors include the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Exelon Corp., Dominion Resources and American Electric Power Co. Inc. AEP, the nation's largest coal burner, doled out more than $246,000.
Utilities have been more generous to Democrats than coal mining interests, with significant donations to House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Assistant House Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.
The top getters for this election cycle, however, have been Boehner with $162,000 and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) with $104,000 in donations connected to electric utilities, the CRP reported.
Lobbying also strong
With numerous pieces of legislation and administration proposals that could affect electric generation and coal mining, industry has spent handsomely to stay in touch with policymakers. This year mining interests have spent $16.5 million in lobbying and electric utilities $74.8 million, according to the CRP.
The NMA reported spending $2.2 million in the first half of 2011, compared to $1.4 million spent in the same period last year, when Democrats still controlled both houses of Congress.
Some coal companies also spent more on lobbying. Consol Energy Inc. reported spending at least $1.97 million for the first two quarters of this year, compared to $1.7 million for the same period last year. January through June spending by Peabody Investments Corp., a unit of Peabody Energy Corp., went up from $2.4 million to $2.7 million.
Alpha, which recently bought Massey Energy Co., is on track to match or exceed last year's total lobbying expenditures, having spent $373,014 in the first six months of 2011.
Alpha said it focused its efforts on appropriations bills or continuing resolutions "that promote or dissuade investments in coal-fired plants or other coal-related infrastructure domestically or overseas" or affect regulatory efforts by U.S. EPA and the Interior Department.
The Edison Electric Institute has spent $6.9 million in lobbying so far this year, while AEP has spent $4.75 million. Both numbers are slightly lower compared to the groups' expenditures for the first two quarters of last year.
Disclosure documents show Edison lobbying on numerous pieces of legislation, many of them GOP attempts to roll back the Obama administration clean air agenda. AEP said it lobbied for, among numerous proposals, "Clean air legislation generally including draft legislation that hasn't been yet introduced."
"I would describe the sector as very active and very concerned," said Segal, who represents energy interests and directs the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council. "There are very fundamental questions raised by EPA regulations that deal directly with prospects for economic recovery for communities served by coal fired plants, reliability of electricity in those communities and the price paid by consumers."
Greens also in the game, barely
Interest groups favoring tougher standards have been crying foul over the onslaught of industry donations, meant to affect the political process.
Earlier this year, the Environmental Integrity Project identified McKinley, Upton and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the Energy and Power subcommittee, among several magnets for electric and coal mining interests. In another report, Greenpeace listed 15 lawmakers, like Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) and presidential hopeful Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.), who the group says are fossil fuel boosters and top donation getters (E&E Daily, July 20).
"There's money everywhere in politics," the EIP's Schaeffer said. "I think there's been a surge on coal because of all the issues [in Congress] related to coal."
Environmental groups have donated, albeit nothing close to industry. The CRP said candidates have received more than $10,000 connected to the Sierra Club, more than $25,000 connection to the Natural Resources Defense Council and more than $93,000 connected to the League of Conservation Voters. The group Global Green USA has doled out more than $49,000.
Overall, environmental groups and affiliated individuals have donated almost $356,000 so far this year. While small compared to industry, environmental donations have been on the rise for the past several years.
When it comes to lobbying, the CRP says environmental groups have spent more than $8 million so far this year. The group lists Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund and Ocean Conservancy as the top spenders.
Some environmental advocacy organizations have boosted their spending. Earthjustice, which has been active on fighting the Republican-led coal ash bill, has spent more than $496,000 in lobbying so far this year, compared to $167,867 for the same period last year. The NRDC has increased spending from $263,500 for the first two quarters of 2010 to more than $300,000 so far this year.
Whether good for the environment or the economy, President Obama's regulatory agenda if nothing else has been a boon for K Street.