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Bankruptcy "is a harbinger for the rest of the industry," climate advocates said. (Photo: WildEarth Guardians/flickr/cc)

'The Biggest Coal Giant Has Fallen': Peabody Files for Bankruptcy

Activists say bankruptcy highlights need to transition away from fossil fuels

Nadia Prupis

Coal giant Peabody Energy Corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Wednesday, signaling what climate advocates hope is a death knell for dirty energy.

"Peabody Energy's bankruptcy is a harbinger of the end of the fossil fuel era," said Jenny Marienau, divestment campaign manager with the climate advocacy group

With coal in decline since 2013, the company's financial collapse shows the need to transition into a clean energy future, the group said.

"Peabody is crashing because the company was unwilling to change with the times—they doubled down on the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and investors backed their bet, as the world shifted away from fossil fuels," Marienau said.

The company's collapse comes on the heels of Arch Coal's bankruptcy, which was filed in January. Peabody announced in March it would possibly have to seek bankruptcy.

"The biggest coal giant has fallen, and Peabody Energy's bankruptcy should serve as a wake-up call to anyone promising that coal's glory days will return," said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.

The group said it would monitor the bankruptcy proceedings to safeguard against Peabody scapegoating its workers or dumping responsibilities on communities near mines, noting that the company "has more than $2 billion in mine cleanup liabilities, nearly $1.5 billion of which are unfunded, including nearly $900 million in Wyoming alone."

"As Peabody grapples with the reality that the world is turning away from coal, it's essential that it doesn't turn away from its obligations to workers, communities, and the environment," Hitt said. "We need to make sure the former energy giant is held accountable for every promise it's made and that its decline leaves its commitments in the best shape possible."
"Peabody’s bankruptcy should send a message to fossil fuel corporations of all kinds that their days of dictating climate policy to suit their needs are numbered."
—Katherine Sawyer,
Corporate Accountability International

Katherine Sawyer, senior international organizer with the advocacy group Corporate Accountability International, said the bankruptcy "is a harbinger for the rest of the industry. Peabody responded to calls for climate action and an end to fossil fuels by burying its head deeper and deeper in the sand. And, in its delusion, it even attempted to cast itself as the solution to energy needs in the Global South."

"While there is much more to be done to catalyze the transition away from dirty fossil fuels and toward clean, sustainable, renewable energy, Peabody’s bankruptcy should send a message to fossil fuel corporations of all kinds that their days of dictating climate policy to suit their needs are numbered. Now is the time to put people before polluters and kick the rest of Peabody Energy’s gross allies out of climate policymaking," Sawyer said.

Communities that have long been impacted by extraction activity used the opportunity to call for a just transition away from coal economies.

"I have been all over the country to see the places where Peabody mines—from  Appalachia to Indiana to Illinois to Wyoming," said Norman Benally, a Navajo activist. "It is all similar stories of destruction of the land and local economies. We know that coal is over. Peabody should not be bailed out—instead it is time for the company to shut down fully."

In Wyoming alone, Peabody owes nearly $900 million in mine cleanup liabilities.

"Communities that have been impacted by Peabody's destruction need to be considered first and foremost as they talk about restructuring the company," Benally said.

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