The parent company of Massey Energy has agreed to pay a $209 million settlement for its subsidiary’s role in the Upper Big Branch explosion that killed 29 miners in a West Virginia coal mine last year. That is the largest ever settlement in a government mine disaster, the New York Times reports.
The settlement will allow Alpha Natural Resources to avoid prosecution, but will not protect the Massey executives more directly involved in the accident.
Alpha, which became the second-largest U.S. coal company when it purchased Massey in January, has greatly increased its spending on lobbying and contributions to politicians in recent years, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Indeed, the company seems on track to set a new spending record this year for its annual federal lobbying budget. Through September, the energy company has spent $530,600 on federal lobbying, bringing it within striking distance of its previous all-time annual high of $608,000, reached in 2010.
The company has largely targeted environmental regulation and climate change mitigation this year with its lobbying dollars, according to its federal lobbying reports. It has also lobbied on mine safety regulations and on energy policy, advocating for increased clean coal investment.
Alpha has also spent big through its political action committee recently, favoring Republicans.
During the 2010 election cycle, the company's PAC donated $211,500 to political candidates at the federal level. Through September this year, the company has donated about $150,400. Most of the campaign cash spent this year has gone to congressmen in big coal-producing states such as West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
The biggest recipient has been Rep. David McKinley (R-W.V.), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee (which regulates the coal industry). McKinley has received $10,000 from the company's PAC so far this year (the legal maximum a PAC can contribute between a candidate's general and primary elections). He's also received an additional $11,500 from company employees.
As OpenSecrets Blog has previously reported, Massey Energy was no stranger to Washington spending in its heyday. Massey's PAC spent no less than $20,000 during each election cycle between 1998 and 2004, according to the Center's research. Typically, a few thousand dollars of that spending were direct contributions to candidates. After 2000, its spending fell as donations turned exclusively to Republicans. In 2010, the year of the accident, its total spending spiked again to $14,000, and it donated $2,000 a piece to three West Virginia Republicans.