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Big Coal’s “Stealth Mode” Campaign to Kill the Climate Bill

Pete Altman

Posted April 13, 2010

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The coal industry includes companies that profess to support climate legislation but are in fact operating behind the scenes in “stealth mode” to deny climate science and thwart needed action on climate change.  

Consider two of the coal companies that keep their heads down and yet still do a lot of damage: Peabody Energy Company, the world’s largest private-sector coal producer, and Arch Coal, the second largest U.S. coal producer.

Peabody claims to support climate legislation, but it has been identified as a key figure in opposition to climate legislation.

  • In 2008, USA Today wrote that “Peabody is perhaps the staunchest opponent of stringent regulations to cap greenhouse gas emissions.”
  • In 2006, the New York Times wrote: “Much in the way that Exxon Mobil influences discussion of climate issues in the oil industry, Peabody is a backer of industry-supported organizations that seek to prevent mandatory reductions in global warming emissions and promote demand for coal.” The Times also noted that [Peabody Chairman and CEO Gregory] Boyce had chaired a federal advisory panel that produced a controversial report proposing exemptions to the Clean Air Act to encourage greater use of coal.

We’ve been doing some digging and it turns out that Peabody Energy and Arch Coal have spent millions to block climate legislation in just the last few years.  Here are the particulars: 

  • In 2008 and 2009, Arch Coal ($3.04 million) and Peabody Coal ($14.2 million) spent a combined $17.9 million in direct federal lobbying on energy, environmental and other matters. 
  • The two companies contributed $5 million each to the budget of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (“ACCCE”) in 2008, and presumably have continued to keep their memberships current with contributions in 2009 and 2010.

Read on for more about each company’s role in opposing clean energy and climate legislation:

Peabody Energy Corp. 

Peabody Energy is engaged in climate change denial.  

  • When Peabody Chief Executive Gregory Boyce was asked by BusinessWeek in 2007 whether high levels of carbon dioxide are harmful, Boyce was quoted as responding: “I think the simple answer is we don’t know.”
  • Frederick Palmer, Senior Vice President of Government Relations at Peabody, was responsible for some of the earliest climate-denial campaign work when he ran Western Fuels Association, a coal supplier for electric utilities. Palmer was behind the Greening Earth Society project over a decade ago, which ran a public-relations campaign that promoted the environmental benefits of carbon dioxide. Palmer was quoted once as saying, "Every time you turn your car on and you burn fossil fuels and you put CO2 into the air, you're doing the work of the Lord." [Not available online:  St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 20, 2009].

Peabody is involved with and drives opposition to climate legislation and regulation in numerous ways:

Peabody has a history of cutting corners when it comes to environmental regulations, especially when it comes to workplace safety.   

 

ARCH COAL

Arch Coal is involved with and drives opposition to climate legislation and regulation in numerous ways: 

Arch Coal claims to support efforts to take action on climate change, but the coal company’s actions and alignment with key opponents tell a different story. 

Arch Coal’s is one of the biggest proponents of the environmentally devastating mining technique known as “mountaintop removal mining” (MTR): 

  • Arch Coal has proposed plans to develop the largest authorized mountaintop removal operation in Appalachia at the Mingo Logan Spruce No.1 mine in West Virginia.  In March 2010, EPA announced that it plans to revoke Arch’s permit and to significantly restrict or prohibit mountaintop mining at the site, after the company “failed to produce an agreement that would lead to a significant decrease of the environmental and health impacts of the Spruce No.1 mine.” 
  • Arch and the rest of the coal industry operating in the Appalachian area took a hit in December of 2005, when Bank of America decided to stop funding Mountaintop removal operations.
  • Arch’s West Elk mine complex in Colorado has come under scrutiny for emitting large quantities of methane gas, rather than burning or processing it.  Methane is a greenhouse gas that is over 20 times more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. West Elk produces more than 6 million tons of coal each year and was the target of the WildEarth Guardians in a lawsuit to overturn its expansion.  Arch’s planned expansion would vent 7 million cubic feet of methane daily.   [Not available online: Land Letter, October 16, 2008, "Enviros Challenge Colo. Coal Expansions on Climate Concerns (via NexisLexis).]

Next time someone asks why climate legislation is so difficult to move forward, point them this way. Peabody Energy and Arch Coal are prime examples of how narrow special interests can operate in stealth mode to deny climate science and to put the brakes on climate legislation.

UPDATE: I just tuned in to the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming to hear Gregory Boyce, Chairman and CEO of Peabody Energy, the world's largest privately-held coal producer, refuse to acknowledge that the world is warming due to the consumption and use of fossil-fuels. What he did acknowledge is that "The one known fact is that co2 has risen over the last 100 years."

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