Rainforest Action Network Statement on Peabody Energy’s Imminent Bankruptcy

For immediate release, March 16, 2016
Virali Modi-Parekh, Rainforest Action Network, 510-747-8476
Amanda Starbuck, Rainforest Action Network, 415-203-9952

Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private sector coal mining company, may soon file for bankruptcy. This news comes weeks after Arch Coal, the second largest coal producer in the U.S., filed for Chapter 11. Peabody’s imminent bankruptcy is a signal that the company’s recklessness, greed, and disregard for human life and climate impact is catching up.

Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has been leading a series of campaigns to hold U.S. banks accountable for their financing of the coal industry. The demise of Peabody and other coal companies underscores the need for financial institutions to pivot from dirty energy to investments in a carbon-free economy. RAN also highlights that as Peabody and other companies enter into bankruptcy, the environment, communities and workers should be prioritized.

“It is critical that a bankruptcy process for Peabody entails a just transition for workers and the environment, not organized looting by creditors and executives,” said Amanda Starbuck, program director at Rainforest Action Network. “This includes ending leasing and profiting off public lands.”

As a corporation, Peabody practiced bad business all around – with poor strategic choices, abysmal treatment of its workers, gross negligence in communities where it operated, and consistent denial of climate science. The company’s imminent bankruptcy caps one of the most spectacular failures in recent energy history, where Peabody’s big bet on global coal expansion went bust. As stocks plunged, top executives gifted themselves tens of millions of dollars in compensation, with the CEO getting a whopping $58 million. Meanwhile, the company threw workers and retirees under the bus, ultimately revoking health and retirement benefits for longtime employees. Throughout its history, the company has violated Clean Water Act regulations by illegally dumping arsenic, lead and other heavy chemicals into drinking water supplies. What’s more, Peabody was the staunchest opponent of greenhouse gas regulation, where top executives used their wealth to influence politics, fund a climate-denying group, and push coal development instead.

In the interior west, Peabody continues to mine huge coal reserves, destroying parts of the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming and impacting surrounding communities. These mines are located on federal public lands, leased for as little as $2/acre. As the company further declines, it leaves behind billions of dollars in cleanup costs and other liabilities. Addressing its reclamation responsibilities and ending its federal leases will be critical over the coming months.

Peabody is the exact example of why the U.S. must make a radical shift away from dirty fuel and keep it in the ground. Rather than wait for bankruptcies of these coal companies, it’s time for the American people to stop subsidizing corporate villains like Peabody and get them off public lands before it’s too late. A first step would be for President Obama to end leasing of public lands for all fossil fuel extraction and to protect these open spaces for generations to come.