One week ago, Peabody Energy cried uncle.
The world’s largest privately-owned coal producer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, following Arch Coal, Alpha Natural Resources, and Patriot Coal in begging the United States Bankruptcy Courts for mercy.
It would be easy for climate advocates to cheer the occasion as yet another signpost along the hard-fought road to a carbon-free future. But, unfortunately for many involved, Peabody’s bankruptcy could leave many vulnerable parties—from coal workers to Navajo tribes to students in St. Louis— suffering further.
Which is why activists from impacted communities gathered on Tuesday in St. Louis, home of Peabody’s headquarters, to demand that a “Just Transition Fund” is endowed as part of the bankruptcy proceedings before the “golden parachutes” are given out to reckless executives and the loans are repaid to the reckless banks that kept funding Peabody’s speculation.
One week ago, Peabody Energy cried uncle.
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.
The coal industry is facing hard times as it tries to battle against a growing demand for climate action and clean energy.
Cheaper and cheaper renewables along with the increasingly successful fossil fuel divestment campaign (which largely targets coal for being the dirtiest of all the fossil fuels) means the industry has had to reimagine itself.
Two stories out late last week in the Guardian will seriously test the resolve of Peabody Energy's “Advanced Energy for Life” campaign.
The first Guardian article's title says it all: “Exclusive - Energy giant exploited Ebola crisis for corporate gain, say health experts.”
On September 19, Dow Jones removed Peabody Energy from its S&P 500 index, considered a list of the premier U.S. stocks for investors. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch cited the downward trajectory of the company's market capitalization as the rationale behind the ouster of Peabody from the S&P 500 index. Peabody will now join the JV leagues in the S&P MidCap 400.
Peabody's downfall symbolizes ongoing market trends within the coal industry overall.
“The total market value of publicly traded U.S. coal companies has rebounded slightly in recent months, but remains nearly 63% lower than a total of the same companies at a near-term coal market peak in April 2011,” explained SNL Energy in April.
“A perfect storm of factors, including new federal regulations impacting coal-burning power plants, cheap competing fuels, railroad service issues and weak global markets has kept pressure on a number of coal operators since the industry's 2011 near-term peak.”
A new study published this week by the Carbon Tracker Initiative — best known for its work accounting for a “carbon budget” and unburnable carbon — raises further questions about the future of coal's global market hegemony. It's another blow to the coal industry as the United Nations convenes this week's Climate Summit in New York City to discuss climate disruption, in no small part driven by antiquated coal-fired power plants.
Both online and on television, one of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers is telling Australians that it cares more about the environment than energy.
How this message might go down with the shareholders of Chevron is anyone’s guess. But then those people are possibly not the target for Chevron’s “We Agree” campaign.
The targets of this and other campaigns are Australians who might be thinking twice about the social licence to operate that is currently afforded to major fossil fuel companies.
Chevron’s ongoing campaign has been seen on SBS television and on satellite cable channels as well as featured banner ads on popular websites and in print.
The ads ask readers to “agree” to statements like “Value the environment as much as the energy” and “Make Australian Gas Benefit All Australia.”
Chevron’s multi-billion-dollar gas projects are in the country’s sparsely populated north west where opposition has been weaker than elsewhere.
But the Chevron messaging is just one chunk of a steady barrage of fossil fuel-funded PR flack being fired at Australians by some of the world's biggest mining companies.
It appears the fossil fuel industry is feeling the pressure from repeated warnings in the scientific literature about the risks of continuing to exploit and burn fossil fuels.
When the industry group was launched in 2008, the message was that coal — the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning globally — could be part of the future.
“I believe we can limit greenhouse gases,” declared one of the wholesome American citizens depicted in the ACCCE television adverts.
One can only presume that the ACCCE has now dropped its hopes of limiting greenhouse gases, given that its latest “landmark report” claims the benefits to society of putting extra carbon dioxide into the atmosphere massively outweigh the costs. Surely the message should be, “burn baby, burn”?
The Social Costs Of Carbon? No, The Social Benefits Of Carbon report by ACCCE claims the benefits of adding extra CO2 to the atmosphere are between 50 and 500 times higher than the costs.
But the report attacks climate change science using sources as ideologically tainted as the Heartland Institute – an organisation which once ran a billboard campaign with a picture of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski to claim that the “most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”
At its core, the ACCCE report is one long misrepresentation of the impact of coal on the planet, from its effects on growing food crops to raising sea levels to fuelling risk-laden climate change.
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) is apparently trying to show the EPA its empty pockets as a new set of standards capping mercury, arsenic, acid gases, and other toxic chemicals is about to go forward. Although the new laws will save thousands of lives, the coal companies are complaining that this new ruling “is the most expensive rule the EPA has ever written for coal-fueled power plants.”
However, when taking a closer look at the collective bank accounts of the 22 members of ACCCE (including some of the largest coal companies like Arch Coal and Peabody), their balance of cash is near $18 billion.
Yet, all coal companies under the new emissions reductions (including ones not associated with ACCCE) would pay a combined total of $11 billion for the new technology. Perhaps if the companies stopped spending $35 million on delusional TV ads, they could instead put it to better use for advancements that would alleviate the suffering of many and create jobs.
Estimates say that 1.5 million jobs could be created out of these improvements, but hey, $11 billion also makes a pretty awesome money pile to jump into and roll around in.
Read the original article on Grist.org.
SO Australia’s carbon price cards are finally on the table.
From July next year, the Federal Government will look to price greenhouse gas emissions at $23 per tonne rising 2.5 per cent each year.
Then, in 2015, this is replaced by a cap-and-trade system with the price set by the market.
That’s the simple explanation. The devil is in the detail, of which there is an awful lot.
To make the plan politically acceptable, a complex array of exemptions, sweeteners, compensation measures and adjustments to the tax system have been negotiated.
See updates below the fold!
Earlier this week, Peabody Energy was the target of a genius parody website, Coal Cares™, offering free novelty inhalers to families living within 200 miles of a coal plant along with coupons for $10 off asthma medication in lieu of spending money on pollution-reducing technology at their own coal plants. The spoof site was put together by a group called Coal is Killing Kids through the Yes Lab, a spin-off of the Yes Men.
But then, Peabody decided it wasn’t fair that they were getting all the spotlight, and had their lawyers whip up a quick legal threat. But it wasn’t the expected cease and desist letter to take down the website. Rather, Peabody complained that they were unfairly targeted because while they are the largest coal company, they aren’t the only coal company causing asthma attacks in children.