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Coal Lobby Has Grown Since Upper Big Branch Disaster

The amount of money coal industries poured into federal lobbying has increased since the fatal explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia.The Center for Responsive Politics and Opensecrets.org analyzed the data and found in 2011, the coal industry spent $18.1 million on lobbyists. In 2009, that number was $14.9 million.As Opensecrets.org reports:

The industry's figures overall are slightly down compared to 2010, but are significantly higher than before the accident. Although there is evidence that mine safety has improved since the explosion, Congress has failed to pass any legislation addressing it. The correlation between lobbying expenditures and legislation, or lack thereof, is never clear -- but it's clear where campaign contributions go and who's pushing or resisting new legislation.

As a recent hearing on efforts by the  Mine Health and Safety Administration (the agency responsible for overseeing mine safety) showed, Democrats are the ones pushing for new laws. And the industry has given far more money to Republicans -- about $3 million to Republicans and just $385,486 to Democrats.

The OpenSecrets.org analysis of contributions by the industry also shows that overall giving to candidates is on the rise. In the 2010 campaign cycle, individuals and PACs affiliated with the industry gave far more than ever before -- $8.1 million. That is more than double than the previous high-water mark in the 2002 cycle, when when individuals and PACs affiliated with the industry gave $3.7 million. And so far this cycle, with much of this year including the general election still to come, the industry has given $4.8 million, putting it on pace to possibly surpass last cycle.

The coal companies that spent the most money are the industry's heavy hitters: CONSOL Energy, Patriot Coal, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources (which purchased Upper Big Branch owner Massey Energy last June).

Mine safety legislation obviously isn't the only topic on Capitol Hill that would prompt an increase in coal industry lobbying dollars. I'd assume coal companies would also be interested in several of the pieces of legislation that have addressed environmental regulations and climate change. But the Opensecrets.org piece noted that Alpha, CONSOL and Peabody at least all noted that mine safety and oversight was an issue of concern on their lobbying disclosures.