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Alpha Natural Resources (Coal) Going Bankrupt; How Will Coal’s Decline Impact Virginia GOP?


I saw this article earlier today and immediately thought of Virginia Republicans. I’ll explain in a minute, but first the news.

Alpha Natural Resources Inc. is planning to file for bankruptcy protection in Virginia as soon as Monday as the biggest miner of U.S. coal used in steelmaking struggles amid the worst commodities slump in more than a decade, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter…

Bristol, Virginia-based Alpha Natural would follow rivals Walter Energy Inc., Patriot Coal Corp. and James River Coal Co. in filing for bankruptcy during the past 15 months as met coal prices dropped 72 percent since 2011.

Alpha Natural, despite reporting $1.8 billion in cash and available credit at end of March, hasn’t turned in a profit since 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The thing is, it’s not just Alpha, but the entire coal industry that’s getting pounded by a variety of forces: cheap natural gas, the rise of wind and solar power, and the recognition that coal is cooking the planet to death.

So how does the decline of the coal industry potentially impact Virginia politics? First, as VPAP reports, the energy/natural resources sector has donated around $52 million to Virginia politicians since 1996. Of that, around $14 million has come from “Coal Mining/Processing,” with another $16 million from heavily coal-powered utilities. And where has that money gone in terms of partisan distribution? Here are a few examples just to give you a feel for how lopsided it’s been in favor of Republicans.

Coal company Alpha Natural Resources: $3.0 million, of which $2.3 million has gone to Republicans.

Coal executive Richard Baxter Gilliam: $2.7 million, of which only $1,000 has gone to Democrats, while $1.6 MILLION has gone to Republicans and $1.1 million to “other” (I believe a lot of this went to right-wing SuperPACs, like American Crossroads, that might not be classified as “Republican” by VPAP, but are clearly pro-Republican).

Coal/natural gas producer Consol Energy: $1.2 million, of which the overwhelming majority – $940k – went to Republicans.

Virginia Coal Association: $1.1 million, of which $740k went to Republicans.

Coal executive Marvin W Gilliam, Jr.: $683k, all but $3k of which went to Republicans.

Coal company United Co.: $519k, of which $324k went to Republicans.

Massey Coal: $466k, of which all but $8.3k went to Republicans.

Coal miner Cumberland Resources: $453k, of which all but $30k went to Republicans.

We could go on, but I think you get the picture: the vast majority of Virginia coal industry $$$ has gone to Virginia Republicans over the years, with only a small share going to Democrats. Which could mean, at least in theory, that as the coal industry goes down the tubes financially, the impact will be disproportionately negative on Virginia Republicans. We’ll see, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on…

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