Coal Quandary: Big Coal Backed Beeker and Flowers in same PSC race vs. Dunn

Coal crew hedges bets with anyone but Dunn donating pattern

Steve Flowers’s flirtation with a run against Dunn was brief, but long enough to collect coal cash. 

By Eddie Curran

(Note: This was written prior to Steve Flowers’ decision in early February not to run for the PSC. That decision does not dilute the implications of this story.)

On Jan. 13, Alabama Public Service Commission candidate Chip Beeker received nine donations totaling $11,250 from individuals or entities linked to the coal industry. His only “non coal” donation in January, for $200, was also his smallest.We can therefore presume, from those and prior months’ contributions, that the coal industry (and thus, Alabama Power) supports Beeker in his challenge to incumbent Terry Dunn. Right?

Yes, but then things got weird.

Imagine Beeker’s chagrin upon learning that those same nine coal industry donors gave the identical sums days before to his opponent. Not Dunn, of course, or little-known  Jonathan Barbee, but the new candidate in the race.

On Jan. 8, former state legislator turned political columnist Steve Flowers announced that he too would run against Dunn in the crazy crowded Republican primary for PSC Place 2.

Flowers, like Beeker, is a Dunn-basher. He’d be a good Power Company soldier if elected.

Chip Beeker. Amazingly, Beeker allowed Southern Company and thus Alabama Power D.C. lobbyist Haley Barbour to host a fundraiser for him. Whose interests do you think he’ll look after?

Within two days of Flowers’ announcement, nine donors with ties to the coal industry gave him a total of $11,250. On Jan. 13, the same nine gave identical sums to Beeker. For example, the Alabama Coal Cooperative donated $2,500 to Flowers on Jan. 10. Three days later, the Alabama Coal Cooperative gave $2,500 to Beeker. (A complete list of the 9 coal donors and their amounts is below.)

Alabama Power, as a utility regulated by the PSC, is not allowed to contribute in PSC elections. It’s one of the oldest non-secrets in Alabama politics that the coal industry serves as a stand-in for Alabama Power at PSC election time.

This summary of giving by the Alabama Coal Cooperative shows donations to Flowers, Beeker, and also incumbent Place 1 commissioner Jeremy Oden. ENPAC is the PAC of the Alabama Coal Association.

The coal industry isn’t regulated by the PSC, but Alabama Power, which of course buys lots of coal, is. Dunn — the first PSC commissioner in 30 years to seek meaningful reductions in Alabama Power’s rates — now has three challengers from within his own party. You might say that the quiet first term commissioner from Etowah County has upset The Power Company.

Poor Chip Beeker. Last year, the former Greene County Commissioner announced his intent to run against Dunn. Since then, Beeker has blasted Obama, linked Dunn to liberal environmentalists, and in all ways followed the script. He has behaved and done his chores like a good boy.

Beeker even allowed Southern Company lobbyist Haley Barbour to host a fundraiser for him. The Southern Company is of course Alabama Power’s parent, meaning that Beeker was being helped by one of Alabama Power’s D.C. lobbyists. Beeker was cheerfully, alarmingly blind to the conflict.

Then, this week, the monthly campaign reports from January came due. And guess what? Those wonderful people and companies who gave to him made the exact same donations to the new horse in the race, and even did so before giving to him.

The identical donations to Beeker and Flowers are revealing in ways other than who Alabama Power and its political twin are supporting in this race.

The donations expose the degree to which Big Coal and Alabama Power dictate giving to PSC races. It’s evident that a directive was given — you give this much, on this date, to this candidate. And days later, the same directive was given, only there was to be a different candidate’s name on the checks.

How else to explain the identical giving pattern of, for example, the owner of a coal mining company in Tuscaloosa and a Cullman-based employee of the Alabama Coal Cooperative?

Coincidence?

Dunn, incidentally, didn’t receive any coal donations. His only activity for January was a personal loan to his campaign.

 

Terry Dunn, at right, with his staff. Alabama Power, and thus “Big Coal,” wants anyone to win but Dunn.

Here are the nine coal-related donors who gave to both Beeker and Flowers, and the amounts they gave to each. I verified that each company is involved in coal mining and looked up the individuals and note their association:

1. Alabama Coal Cooperative, $2,500.
2. Black Rock Energy LLC, $1,000.
3. Black Warrior Minerals, Inc., $1,000.
4. Cahaba Contracting & Reclamation, $1,000.
5. Cedar Lake Mining, Inc., $1,000.
6. Randy Johnson (manager, Alabama Coal Cooperative), $2,500.
7. MS&R Equipment Company Inc., $1,000.
8. Chris J. Arnold, (Works for Alabama Coal Cooperative) $250.
9. Terry R. Douglas, (owner of mining company in Tuscaloosa) $1,000.

Beeker, as previously noted, received one $200 contribution in January not associated with the coal industry. Flowers received two other donations, for a total of $4,500. Neither, as best as I can tell, are coal related.

PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh is not up for re-election this year. Place 1 commissioner Jeremy Oden — like all the PSC members, a Republican — just got his first opponent. Last week, Tea Party activist Kathy Peterson announced that she’s running against Oden. She called Oden, “the establishment and special interests’ hand-picked appointment” to the PSC. 

Translation: Kathy Peterson would make trouble for Alabama Power.

Oden has voted lock-step with Cavanaugh, which is to say, in ways favored by Alabama Power. He’s been rewarded by donations from the coal industry and others who do business with Alabama Power. 

Not to quote myself, but elsewhere on this site I wrote: 

The 2014 elections promise to be the biggest snoozers in state history. The Democrats simply cannot compete in statewide elections and have largely quit trying. It’s unlikely that Gov. Robert Bentley will face a remotely serious challenge.

 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but as it stands now, the sexiest statewide race is for … drum roll please … Place 2, Public Service Commission. With Peterson now running against Oden for Place 1, control of that PSC seat is also now in play. The Public Service Commission, it would seem, is where the action is this election season. The stakes are big. They could actually impact your monthly power bills.

Considering the bottomless pit of coal money and other sources no doubt ready to assist Alabama Power, a betting man would pick Dunn to lose, Oden to hold his seat, and the PSC to return to normalcy. In other words, with Alabama Power once again in total control of the state agency that regulates its rates — three votes for Alabama Power, zero for those us who get their bills. 

But it’s Alabama politics, and anything can happen.

Kathy Peterson, a Tea Party activist, with then presidential candidate Herman Cain during a 2012 visit by Cain to Alabama. Peterson lost to Twinkle Cavanaugh in the 2012 race for PSC president but now his running against PSC Place 1 Commissioner Jeremy Oden.