Environment

Published — April 13, 2011 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Energy dollars fueled campaigns of Democrats who defected on EPA vote

Oklahoma Democrat Dan Boren was the biggest beneficiary from coal, oil, and gas interests, receiving more than $243,000 during 2009-10. AP photo

Foes of greenhouse gas authority got almost as much as all other Democrats

Introduction

The 19 House Democrats who sided with the Republican majority last week in favor of preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases received almost as much money from the coal, oil and gas industries as all other Democrats combined during 2009 and 2010, federal elections data shows.

The politicians, many from the southeast U.S. and coal-rich states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia, received an average of almost $53,000 apiece from the fossil fuel industries during that time – nearly eight times the average received by Democrats voting against the bill introduced by Michigan Republican Fred Upton, chairman of the energy and commerce committee, according to an analysis of the elections data by iWatch and the Center for Responsive Politics.

The biggest beneficiary of these contributions was Oklahoma Democrat Dan Boren, who received more than $243,000 from coal, oil and gas interests. Boren, a leader of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, proclaimed his support for Upton’s bill when it was introduced, saying, “The EPA has gone unchecked for far too long.”

Though the bill passed, its chances of becoming law are not high. President Barack Obama has vowed to veto it, and a companion bill has not been brought to a vote in the Senate, where Democrats have a majority. But an amendment that would have done largely the same thing – block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions – failed in a Senate vote last week.

In that vote, four Democrats joined Republicans in favor of the amendment introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. These four received an average of roughly $142,000 each during 2009 and 2010 from the fossil fuel industries – about 6 1/2 times the average amount received by other Senate Democrats.

The top recipient was West Virginia Democrat and coal industry ally Joe Manchin, who received more than $318,000.

Contributions by the fossil fuel industries and environmental groups ramped up in the months before the November 2010 elections, but the size of donations from the traditional energy companies dwarfed those from environmental groups. After Republicans took control of the House following these elections, the EPA became a target.

A number of Republicans have questioned the scientific consensus around climate change, and many argue that the agency’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions amounts to an energy tax and would harm the economy and drive jobs to other countries.

Democrats tend to counter that the EPA regulation is a moderate, overdue step to address a problem that could have dire environmental, public health and economic consequences.

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