ELPC Statement on Opening of Coal Mine Self-Bonding Reform Comment Period

May 19, 2016

David Jakubiak

Environmental Law & Policy Center Statement On
Federal Office Of Surface Mining Opening Review
Of Coal Mine Self-Bonding Problems

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

“We commend the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement for moving to look at reforms to address the problems created by coal mine companies self-bonding. OSM’s action is particularly timely because of the recent coal mine bankruptcy filings caused by poor financial decisions from executives at Peabody and other large companies.

“Coal mining companies are responsible under federal and state law to pay for mine reclamation and environmental cleanup. Taxpayers in Illinois and Indiana should not be forced to pay for Peabody’s – and the other coal companies – mine reclamation responsibilities, when misguided business decisions resulted in those bankruptcies.

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center plans on submitting comments to the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. Our goal is to ensure coal companies live up to responsibilities for mine reclamation costs and that communities are not saddled with cleanup costs from bankruptcies.”


Post-Tribune: ELPC’s Grosboll Warns INDOT Funding for Illiana Study is Bad Idea

INDOT in line to resume study on Illiana project
by Carrie Napoleon

Local officials and opponents of the Illiana toll road say they were surprised to learn the Indiana Department of Transportation plans to make court-ordered corrections to the first phase of an environmental impact study for the stalled project and foot the bill. In a court filing April 25, INDOT has agreed to fund the technical work needed to comply with the court’s order in Openlands Et al. v. U.S. Department of Transportation et al., which last year found the study was flawed despite Illinois’ inability to move forward due to lack of funding.

State Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-6th, said he has been reaching out to INDOT for the past several months in an effort to get an official statement on where Indiana stands on the highway project — whether it go forward, wait until Illinois has funding or scrap the effort – but has gotten no response.

“We know Illinois is on hold. I don’t understand why Indiana is not coming out with a statement on this for Indiana residents,” Neimeyer said. “I’m frustrated I haven’t got the answers back.”


Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s Learner Warns Investment in Illiana Tollway is Waste of Limited Transpo Dollars

Indiana Tries to Keep Illiana Toll Road Alive 
By Susan DeMar Lafferty

While Illinois’ position on the proposed Illiana toll road does not appear to have changed, the Indiana Department of Transportation will fund a new environmental impact study to keep the controversial project alive.

According to a court brief filed this week, INDOT has agreed to “fund the technical work needed” to comply with a court order.

The $1.3 billion, 47-mile highway was intended to connect Interstate 55 near Wilmington with Interstate 65 near Lowell, Ind., as a truckers’ alternative to Interstate 80. The Environmental Law & Policy Center, Openlands, the Midewin Heritage Association and the Sierra Club challenged the government’s approval of the Illiana in federal and state courts last year.

The Illiana was shelved indefinitely by Gov. Bruce Rauner in January 2015 due to the state’s budget crisis.

Many thought the project was dead when a federal judge ruled in June that the Federal Highway Administration’s Record of Decision approving the project was “arbitrary and capricious,” invalid and in violation of U.S. environmental law.






Howard Learner Talks Mine Cleanup Self-Bonding on EETV

Howard Learner joined Monica Trauzzi of EETV to talk about how the recent bankruptcy of Peabody Energy may  impact the cleanup of mines the company the company has self-bonded in Illinois and Indiana. Watch the interview.

Crain’s Chicago Business: ELPC’s Learner Warns Latest Illiana Funding is a Bad Move

Illinois, Indiana join in funding move to keep Illiana alive

by Greg Hinz

In the latest sign that the proposed Illiana Expressway still has a heartbeat, Illinois and Indiana appear to have reached a deal under which the latter will provide the cash needed for a key revamped environmental review of the controversial toll road.

In a document filed in U.S. District Court here today, the Indiana Department of Transportation said it has “agreed to fund the technical work needed to comply” with changes in the Environmental Impact Statement ordered by the court. That means that the Illinois Department of Transportation, whose funding has been limited by this state’s continuing budget stalemate, will not have to come up with money despite what the filing describes as “funding issues presented by IDOT.”

The filing indicates that repairs on the rejected EIS could be completed by the end of July.

Judge Jorge Alonso had ruled last summer that the environmental statement by IDOT and InDOT was “arbitrary and capricious,” failing to consider among other things a “no build” alternative to pouring dozens of miles of concrete through wildlife and plant havens between I-55 and I-65.

No exact figures have been disclosed, but it is believed that redoing the EIS is costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“The boondoggle Illiana Tollway seems to be the fiscal folly project that Gov. Rauner and his IDOT just can’t give up,” said Environmental Law & Policy Center attorney Howard Learner, who represents Openlands, the Midewin Heritage Association and other plaintiffs in the case. “Illinois has vital high-priority transportation projects that should not be diluted by pouring more public money into the Illiana Tollway.”


Press Release: ELPC Statement on Peabody Bankruptcy Filing


David Jakubiak, Media Relations

Environmental Law & Policy Center Statement On
Peabody Energy Bankruptcy Filing

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

“Peabody Energy is in bankruptcy because senior corporate management made poor business decisions. Peabody bet on rapidly expanding coal markets as natural gas prices hit historic lows, energy efficiency slashed demand and China’s robust growth slowed.
“The Environmental Law & Policy Center will move to engage in federal bankruptcy court proceedings to make sure Peabody Energy’s coal mine reclamation and clean-up responsibilities in Illinois and across the Midwest are accomplished to the maximum extent possible, and that coal miners and communities are treated fairly.”


The Indianapolis Star: ELPC’s Learner Calls on Indiana Officials to require Peabody to Pay Reclamation Costs

By Howard Learner

Watch your wallets. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources is allowing Peabody Energy to potentially stick Indiana taxpayers with the company’s $163 million of mine reclamation costs.

For too long, Peabody Energy has been allowed to “self-bond” — a promise to provide future reclamation funds — instead of purchasing a surety bond or creating a trust fund to pay for the costs of cleaning up its mines, avoiding contamination and reclaiming the lands that the mining has marred. Peabody is now verging on bankruptcy. Indiana officials need to act decisively to ensure that taxpayers aren’t left holding the financial bag.

Indiana and federal laws require mining companies to reclaim surface lands damaged by their operations and provide financial assurances that cleanup funds will be available. Companies often buy third-party surety bonds that act as insurance policies guaranteeing reclamation funds are available when needed.

Peabody, however, uses “self-bonds” for its six coal mines in Indiana. Maybe that made sense five years ago when Peabody Energy’s stock price was about $74 and its market capitalization was billions of dollars. Peabody has since lost 99 percent of its market value and is radically restructuring its finances and selling assets to avoid bankruptcy. Peabody has essentially “maxed out its credit cards” by borrowing all remaining funds under its corporate debt agreement.

Why is Peabody Energy in such financial distress?

First, Peabody’s management issued billions of dollars in debt and made an ill-timed bet that China’s coal imports would grow at a very rapid pace and the U.S. coal market would grow. That bet didn’t pay off.

Second, energy efficiency is saving businesses and residential consumers money on utility bills and reducing electricity demand and sales. In short, U.S. coal supply exceeds demand.

Peabody has $163 million in mine reclamation responsibilities for its Indiana mines. If state officials don’t step up now and require Peabody to set aside funds for its mine reclamation obligations, Indiana taxpayers may be left standing in line in federal bankruptcy court for pennies on the dollar.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center filed a citizens’ complaint contending this self-bonding violates the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act and urging Indiana officials to require Peabody to purchase a surety bond or otherwise commit real funds for mine reclamation obligations.

To date, Indiana officials have not changed course. The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement directed the Department of Natural Resources to respond “by taking appropriate action to cause the possible violations to be corrected or to show good cause for such failure.” The department, however, continues to allow Peabody Investments Corp. (PIC) to be the corporate guarantor for Peabody’s mining operations in Indiana. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources stated that “whether Peabody has placed all assets in [PIC] and all debts in another … is not a matter for Indiana to decide.”

What kind of corporate shell game is Peabody playing? Does PIC have $163 million available and committed to pay for reclaiming Peabody’s six Indiana mines, or not?

It is a vital matter, indeed, for Indiana to determine whether or not Peabody has the $163 million available to cover its reclamation responsibilities.

The buck stops with the Department of Natural Resources, and Gov. Mike Pence needs to step in. There is little justification for allowing Peabody Energy to continue self-bonding. Sound public policy should not hinge on Peabody’s bankrupt promise, and Indiana taxpayers should not be put on the hook for $163 million of Peabody’s reclamation costs and financial responsibility.

Peabody management’s decisions have landed the company in its current financial distress. Indiana officials should heed the warning signals and act quickly to require Peabody to purchase surety bonds or otherwise provide necessary funds to provide for its mine reclamation responsibilities before it is too late.

Read Here 

Press Release: Wisconsin Electric Co-Op Sets Standard for Rural Solar

February 24, 2016

David Jakubiak

Solar Shines for Rural Electric Co-Ops
Announcement Nearly Doubling Wisconsin Solar Sets Roadmap for Midwest Co-Ops

Wisconsin’s Dairyland Power Cooperative and its member cooperatives announced a historic investment in solar energy on Wednesday unveiling plans to build more than 15 megawatts of new solar energy at 12 locations across Wisconsin.

The announced projects will nearly the double the amount of solar power installed in Wisconsin, which now has about 25 megawatts of installed solar. The projects will be built by solar developers SoCore Energy, based in Chicago and groSolar based in White River Junction, Vermont. Together the installations will create enough electricity for more than 2500 homes.

“Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives are now national and state leaders for solar energy,” said Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Madison. “Dairyland was clear that this effort grew out of support for solar from their members, commitment to diversifying their generation and stabilizing costs , which are goals of cooperatives across the region.”

Brad Klein, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said the Dairyland announcement sends a strong signal to rural electric cooperatives across the Midwest. “The enormous potential for solar energy in states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois is just now beginning to be realized, and rural electric cooperatives, which have strong relationships with their members, have an opportunity to lead the way.”

To learn more about the Dairyland Power announcement visit:

Press Release: ELPC Named to New Ohio River Advisory Committee of Watershed Non-Profits

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                                              

 ELPC Named to New Ohio River Advisory Committee of Watershed Non-Profits   

Committee gets seat at table with ORSANCO commissioners

 Columbus, Ohio – The Environmental Law & Policy Center and more than a dozen other environmentally-focused non-profit organizations within the Ohio River Basin were named to a newly-formed Advisory Committee to the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), a multi-state group charged with setting pollution and abatement standards for the waterway.

The new Watershed Organizations Advisory Committee includes representatives from water-focused environmental non-profits throughout the Ohio River Basin that will be interact with other stakeholder advisory committees and ORSANCO members during scheduled meetings. ELPC already has been an active participant in ORSANCO deliberations over mercury “mixing zones” and other issues during public comment periods and in other ways. The new committee will enable ELPC and its partners to play a more participatory role early on in ORSANCO’s decision-making process.

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center and our fellow advocacy organizations have been working hard over the past year to make sure that ORSANCO understands the environmental and public health ramifications of its decisions,” said Madeline Fleisher, staff attorney at ELPC. “We look forward to participating on this committee as a new avenue to address the serious problems confronting the Ohio River, such as mercury contamination and toxic algae outbreaks.”

Judy Peterson, Executive Director of Kentucky Waterways Alliance, was voted chairman of the committee. “On behalf of the Watershed Organizations Advisory Committee members, I thank the Commissioners for their cordial welcome,” said Peterson. “In the entire 68-year history of ORSANCO, there has never before been an official seat at the table for watershed and wildlife advocacy organizations.”

ORSANCO Chairman Douglas Conroe added, “I am delighted to see the interest that the 17 watershed organizations have offered in helping ORSANCO in its development of Ohio River studies and policies and welcome working with them at the table.”

The new committee will serve its first ex officio role at ORSANCO’s Technical Committee meeting in June 2016.






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