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Environmental activists hold placards as they protest during the 19th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19) in Warsaw November 21, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel Environmental activists hold placards as they protest during the 19th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19) in Warsaw November 21, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel  

Senator: Taxpayer dollars may be funding ‘war on coal’

Even if you’re a supporter of coal power, your tax dollars may be funding groups seeking to end coal-fired power in the U.S., a letter claims.

Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby is asking the Energy Department to investigate whether or not taxpayer funding to environmental groups may be going toward political activity aimed at lobbying Alabama state utility regulators to stop using coal power.

Shelby’s letter to the Energy Department comes after the Alabama Coal Association released data showing that the Energy Foundation, a San Francisco-based environmental group, has given more than $3 million to Alabama environmental groups in the last three years.

Some of this funding was given while the state’s Public Service Commission was holding public hearings. Many of the Alabama environmentalists who got Energy Foundation money also participated in these hearings.

“The link between affordable electricity and economic growth and job creation is undeniable,” Shelby wrote. “Thus, it is of great concern when large out-of-state organizations seek to impose their detrimental agenda on the people of the State of Alabama. It is even more concerning still that these organizations could possibly be using taxpayer dollars to do so.”

Southern environmental groups were given more than $3 million by the Energy Foundation to pursue such policies as advancing “clean energy policies in Alabama” and “to accelerate the retirement of coal-fired power plants” in the state.

“While independent organizations are free to spend their money and advocate in whatever manner they wish, my concern is that some of the organizations now waging a war against coal in Alabama are also receiving federal funds in the form of grants From [the Energy Department],” Shelby added.

The conservative site Yellowhammer Politics compiled a list of how much money southern environmental groups got from the Energy Foundation, including how much was given during the Alabama Public Service Commission hearings:

  • Alabama Arise: $50,000 during the Alabama PSC hearings “to advance clean energy policies in Alabama.”

  • Alabama Environmental Council (AEC): $107,000 “to increase capacity and stakeholder engagement on clean energy issues in Alabama,” including $62,000 during the Alabama PSC hearings.

  • Alabama Rivers Alliance: $40,000 matching grant during the Alabama PSC hearings “to accelerate the retirement of coal-fired power plants in Alabama.”

  • Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Air Pollution (GASP): $70,000, including a $20,000 matching grant “to accelerate the retirement of coal-fired power plants in Alabama” and $50,000 “to increase capacity and support for clean air policies in Alabama.”

  • Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE): $810,000 for a wide variety of climate-related issues in the southeast, including $60,000 during the Alabama PSC hearings “to accelerate retirement of coal-fired power plants.”

  • Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC): $1.8 Million, including $60,000 during the PSC hearings “to accelerate retirement of coal-fired power plants in the Southeast.”

However, environmental groups have argued that their participation in the public service hearing is motivated by their concern for household electricity bills, not ending coal.

“Unlike most of the groups at PSC hearings, our interest isn’t the environment or the business climate,” writes Kimble Forrister, the state coordinator of Alabama Arise. “Our concern is rooted in our member congregations that get so many requests for help from people who have a hard time paying their power bills (as well as gas bills, but those aren’t as big).”

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