The Heat Is Online

"Clean Coal" Lobby Spends $45 million to Influence Policy

"Clean coal's" lobbying blitz

$45 million a year campaign to sell coal as indispensable to America's energy future

Center for Public Intergrity, April 21, 2009

As hearings begin this afternoon on landmark climate change legislation, the debate will bear the mark of an unprecedented corporate campaign over the past year to preserve coal's role in the nation's energy future.


The drive is bolstered by at least $15.6 million in federal campaign /contributions in the 2008 election cycle, according to "The 'Clean Coal' Lobbying Blitz," a new study by the Center for Public Integrity, focusing on the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).


Many now recognize the ads by ACCCE, with the bright orange power cord plugged into a lump of coal, but the Center tells the story of its origins at least five years ago as the industry grappled with the growing drumbeat for policy action on global warming. The burning of coal for electricity is a leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions, but ACCCE promotes the message that carbon capture technology could solve the pollution problem.


The $45 million a year campaign positions coal as an indispensable component of the nation's energy mix -- one that keeps electricity affordable because it is so much cheaper than alternatives. The campaign, which rolled out one year ago, is three times larger than the industry's previous lobbying and public relations efforts. But it's just a small slice of the money the industry has amassed; amidst the punishing economy of 2008, the top five U.S. coal mining companies saw their profits more than double to $1.9 billion last year, the Center reports.


The Center's story provides a new picture of the coal coalition's political influence, with data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Political action committees and individuals, including many top executives, employed by the 48 mining, manufacturing, rail and utility companies that are a part of ACCCE contributed $15.6 million to federal candidates in the 2008 election cycle -- with a reach so wide that 87 percent of Congress received money.


 Two key members who only rose to their leadership posts after the election received no ACCCE-member contributions: Energy and Commerce Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA and his global warming subcommittee chairman, Rep. Ed Markey, D-MA. But the vast majority of their Committee colleagues did. And the draft climate legislation by Waxman and Markey -- who only a year ago pushed for a moratorium on new coal plants -- offers the industry a pathway forward and provides billions for clean coal research.


Although ACCCEs promotion of clean coal has been ridiculed in a high-profile advertising campaign led by former Vice President Al Gores Alliance for Climate Protection, the coal coalition is facing the upcoming policy debate with optimism. "Not so long ago, people questioned whether coal was going to be a fuel for the future," ACCCE spokesman Joe Lucas told the Center. "Clearly there are fewer and fewer people who don't think it will be."


In its recent report showing how the number of climate lobbyists has quadrupled in the last five years, the Center singled out ACCCE as having spent more on lobbying on climate last year -- $9.95 million -- than any other organization solely devoted to the issue. The Center's new report looks behind that number, and traces the origins, goals, strategies and influence of one of the most important voices weighing in on federal climate policy.