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Senators taking on EPA got big cash from coal

Many senators who voted this week to block Obama administration coal regulations received healthy campaign donations from coal industry interest groups in recent years.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed two resolutions to stop Environmental Protection Agency rules by a 52-46 vote. One EPA regulation — the Clean Power Plan — would seek to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired plants, while the other would aim to reduce pollution from new plants.

Senators who voted to scrap the EPA rules received 17 times more campaign funding, on average, from coal interest groups since April 2009 than those who supported them, according to an analysis by money in politics researcher MapLight. The 52 lawmakers took in an average of $75,802 in that period from mining, energy and manufacturing groups, among others.

Mitch McConnell
Getty Images
Mitch McConnell

The White House on Tuesday said blocking the rules "threatens the health and economic welfare of future generations," adding that President Barack Obama would veto the resolutions. The largely symbolic Senate disapproval comes just days before Obama heads to Paris for international climate policy talks.

The Obama administration and many scientists argue that carbon emissions from coal-fired plants contribute to climate change and threaten public health. Opponents of the Clean Power Plan contend it will increase energy costs for consumers and disrupt coal-related jobs.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — who has received about $350,000 in campaign funds from coal interest groups since 2009 — represents Kentucky, one of the largest U.S. coal producers. In a statement Tuesday, McConnell said the EPA regulations would "eliminate good-paying jobs" and "punish the poor."

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, another key coal state, voted to block the EPA rules. He has taken in nearly $500,000 in campaign funds from coal interest groups since 2009.

"The president's energy agenda has had a crushing impact on West Virginia and other energy states," he said in a statement Tuesday.

Two other Democrats from coal states — Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana — broke with the party in opposing the regulations.

Three of the current Republican senators running for president — Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rand Paul of Kentucky— voted to block the EPA rules. Marco Rubio of Florida did not vote.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a Democratic presidential candidate, opposed the resolutions.