Arch Coal

Subsidized to the End: Not Even Corporate Welfare Can Save Big Coal

This year, two energy companies that have each received billions of dollars in subsidies and financial support from the federal government are going into bankruptcy. You might think, in this post-Solyndra political environment, that conservative commentators and politicians would be lining up at the Fox News studios to call for some heads to roll.

But, no. Even though these companies have benefited from enough federal subsidies to make the Solyndra loan look like pocket change, there's no outrage. Because they are coal companies (not solar), the story isn’t about how the federal government spent decades propping them up, it’s about how the president’s Clean Power Plan is taking them down.
 
For decades, however, coal companies have taken advantage of vast subsidies for extracting coal from public lands. The deals for mining this taxpayer-owned coal from American public lands were so good that some of the world’s biggest coal companies have relied on the cheap leases to survive as demand plummeted and the industry melted down.

A new report released last week by Greenpeace reveals just how big a part of Big Coal’s business federally subsidized coal has become. 

Here's Why Even The World's Largest Coal Company Is Teetering On Bankruptcy

This is a guest post by Nick Abraham, originally published on Oil Check Northwest

Peabody Energy, the largest private coal company in the world, is one of the last remaining coal majors to still be floating above the bankruptcy tidal-wave that has hit the industry. But it now looks like that even this coal behemoth will likely go under. Languishing under the same over capitalization and changing market structures that have plagued the entire industry (more on that below) Peabody's stock has dropped 30% just since the final fiscal quarter of last year.

Peabody is now $6.3 billion in debt. Its Gateway Pacific terminal, just north of Bellingham, WA, (which if built would be the largest facility of its kind in North America) has been in a holding pattern as local communities weigh whether a project like this is in the collective interest. 

Coal's demise has been well-reported. Once the standard bearer of our power grid, coal has dropped from providing a substantial 50% of the nation’s electricity to 29%. Just last week, the Oregon legislature passed a bill to transition off coal power completely. The result of this downturn is that many domestic coal companies were becoming heavily dependent on exported coal (and exports have been falling since 2012)—carried by train through American cities and towns—to make up the difference.

Pure Play Peabody and Other U.S. Coal Kings Getting Pummelled in Stock Market

So far, 2016 has not been very kind to U.S. energy companies solely invested in coal production, and there is no indication that it's going to get better anytime soon. 

With cheap natural gas substituting coal for electricity production, a sustained downturn in coal demand in China, and tough new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, pure play coal companies like Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU) and Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI), are having a horrible run of it. 

St. Louis-based Arch Coal filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday, and that news saw trading immediately halted and proceedings undertaken to have Arch Coal delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. Over the last ten years, Arch Coal's share price dropped from a high of $104.45 per share, to trading at a mere 15.5 cents this week prior to the halt to trading.

Arch Coal Nearly Doubled Its CEO Pay As It Lurched To Bankruptcy, Drawing SEC Attention

This is a guest post by Joe Smyth from Greenpeace, originally published at Medium.

Arch Coal, the second largest coal mining company in the US, filed for bankruptcy on Monday, raising questions about the company’s reclamation obligations for its massive strip mines, its plans to export coal from the Powder River Basin to Asia, the future of its existing and pending federal coal leases, and more. While Arch Coal sold mines, cut wages, and stopped paying dividends as its fortunes fell, one area it didn’t skimp was executive compensation.

In fact, while Arch Coal shareholders (or at least those who failed to divest from the company) have lost out, Arch CEO John Eaves somehow got a big raise as his company was failing — which seems to have earned the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Coal Companies Talking Out Both Sides Of Their Mouths When It Comes To Climate Change

Peabody Energy, the largest coal company in the U.S., deployed one of the lawyers on its payroll to Congress last week to argue against the Environmental Protection Agency’s new carbon rule.

This is so common that it normally wouldn’t rate a mention, but in this case it happened to be Obama’s former Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, who now works for Peabody and is critical of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, saying it is tantamount to “Burning the Constitution.”

But then, even that ranks pretty low in terms of newsworthiness given that, as a new analysis by Greenwire E&E reporters Corbin Hiar and Manuel Quiñones puts it, “The highest profile practitioner of targeted climate messaging is Peabody Energy Corp.”


The Greenwire analysis shows that many coal companies are, in fact, frequently talking out both sides of their mouths when it comes to climate change, and uses Peabody in particular as a case study of the legal and shareholder risks involved.

Coal Lobbyist Jeff Holmstead Disqualified by Federal Judge in Ameren Pollution Lawsuit

Originally published on PolluterWatch

Jeff Holmstead, perhaps the nation's prime example of a revolving door lobbyist, was dismissed by a federal judge as an expert witness in a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against Ameren Missouri, a coal burning utility.

In an ongoing case, the EPA has charged Ameren with violating the Clean Air Act by not installing appropriate pollution controls at one of its coal plants. The Sierra Club has since sued Ameren, “alleging 7,880 air quality violations at three coal-burning power plants since 2009,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Judge Rodney Sippel granted U.S. Justice Department's request to remove Holmstead as a witness, confirming that the lobbyist's history at U.S. EPA posed “multiple conflicts of interest.” Here's the judge's motion to dismiss Jeffrey Holmstead, citing Holmstead's use of his EPA experience to undermine EPA's pollution enforcement actions (emphases added):

Mr. Holmstead’s legal opinions are irrelevant, speculative, and inadmissible.” […] “By his own description, Mr. Holmstead’s testimony relies on his recollection of EPA “internal meetings” that he says are relevant to the issues to be tried in this action. Such internal communications are privileged and confidential and Mr. Holmstead may not rely on his recollection of them to testify against EPA. Moreover, Mr. Holmstead received other privileged information concerning the issues about which he now seeks to testify on behalf of Ameren, and participated in power-plants enforcement cases related to this one while at EPA. Before he left EPA, he even personally provided a declaration for EPA that is at issue in this and other related power-plants enforcement cases asserting privilege claims on behalf of EPA over documents that are relevant to the opinions he now seeks to offer. Yet he now seeks to change sides and testify against EPA. Moreover, he was assisted in the preparation of his report by another former EPA attorney who was involved in the early stages of the investigation that ultimately led to the filing of this case. For the reasons discussed in the accompanying Memorandum, Mr. Holmstead should not be allowed to testify in this matter due to his multiple conflicts of interest.

This is a notable blow to Mr. Holmstead's credibility, who touts his time at EPA to obscure his lobbying to protect polluters from public accountability.

Rejection of Colorado Coal Mine on Global Warming Grounds Could Be Game-Changer

A U.S. District Court judge ruled on June 27 that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service both wrongly approved expansion of the West Elk coal mine in Somerset, Colo., because they failed to take into account the economic impacts greenhouse gas emissions from the mining would have.
 
The federal agencies said it was impossible to quantify such impacts, but the court pointed out a tool is available to quantify the effects of emissions and the agencies chose to ignore it. The tool, the “social cost of carbon protocol,” puts a price on the damanges from drought, flood, storm, fire and disease caused by global warming. 
 
“It is arbitrary to offer detailed projections of a project's upside while omitting a feasible projection of the project's costs,” U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson ruled.
 
Arch Coal, Inc. planned to bulldoze vegetation to build about six miles of roads and drill up to 48 exploratory holes in the scenic backcountry of western Colorado's North Fork Valley to vent methane and determine whether a coal seam actually lies beneath the area.
 
The federal agencies' final report on the West Elk Mine expansion listed the economic benefits of modifying public lands leases to allow the project, but failed to quantify the social or economic costs of carbon emissions from the project.  
 
The ruling could be game-changing because if the judge's reasoning holds up in other challenges to federal agency decisions, it could change the calculus on dozens of other major projects, such as the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

DeSmog Responds to Misleading Allegations From Edelman and Alliance For Northwest Jobs & Exports

The Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports issued a misleading statement to the Seattle Times in response to last week's guest post by contributor Mike Stark: Why Are Coal Industry PR Pros Laughing About Climate Change in Private Talks on Export Terminals?

The Alliance statement accused Mr. Stark of “eavesdropping” on a conversation between an Edelman PR vice president and Arch Coal executives in a hotel lobby. The Edelman/Alliance accusation lacks merit, as we demonstrate below. 

In these audio files, Mr. Stark can be heard introducing himself and asking questions to Alliance spokesperson and Edelman vice president, Lauri Hennessey [mp3].


A short time later, Mr. Stark engages with Arch Coal senior vice president Matthew Ferguson [mp3], immediately prior to the subsequent conversation which he reported on last week at DeSmogBlog.



The audio reveals Mr. Ferguson agreeing to speak with Mr. Stark just prior to turning to speak with Ms. Hennessey.

In sum, both Ms. Hennessey and Mr. Ferguson were well aware that Mr. Stark was a reporter, and neither party did anything to suggest that the conversation Mr. Stark recorded was private, off the record or otherwise secret.

In response to the Alliance's allegations, DeSmogBlog issued the following statement to the Seattle Times and other media outlets that reported on this important story: 

Utah's Students Forced to Push Fossil Fuel Propaganda for Earth Day

Last week, Huffington Post reported a story about the Utah Division of Oil, Gas & Mining’s ridiculous Earth Day Poster Contest. You know, the one where elementary school students were invited to submit posters around the theme, “Where Would WE Be Without Oil, Gas & Mining?

Seeing as this contest was created by a state agency, every public school in Utah was given this flyer (PDF) with instructions for how to participate.

Fortunately, it’s up to every school to decide whether to participate, and at least some Utahns are outraged at the idea. Colby Poulson, a parent in Farmington, called the contest “propaganda” in a letter to the Salt Lake City Tribune

Why is the state backing an “Earth Day” contest that celebrates fossil fuels, while completely ignoring the adverse effects that their use and extraction can too often have on our air quality, water quality, public lands and the other organisms we share the world with? Shouldn’t Earth Day be about championing things that can help reverse the negative impact of our dependence on fossil fuels?

Frankly, I’m disgusted that the state is backing propaganda like this in our schools.

Thousands of Miners' Benefits In Jeopardy As Patriot Coal Claims Bankruptcy

On January 29, Patriot Coal Co. will begin Chapter 11 bankruptcy hearings in St. Louis, MO claiming that it's become a “victim of the markets” and can no longer pay its debts. These “debts” include millions of dollars of retiree health benefits. If the company goes under, the benefits may go along with it.

That's why the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) is suing. Filed back in October, the lawsuit cites the Employee Retirement and Income Securities Act, which states that coal companies must provide health insurance for retired miners.

However, the UMWA isn't suing Patriot Coal.

Most of the 10,000 workers in the class action lawsuit have never actually worked for Patriot. They actually put in their time (many with upwards of 30 years of service) with Peabody Energy Corp. and Arch Coal Inc. The UMWA contends that Peabody and Arch sold off the benefits to a company that was doomed to fail, therefore getting rid of the debt and leaving thousands without health insurance.

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