By Dylan Brown, E&E Reporter
A federal judge yesterday cleared the way for environmentalists to challenge a bankrupt coal company’s promises to clean up its mines — objections industry advocates condemn as counterproductive meddling.
Judge Barry Schermer of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri decided yesterday to lift a hold on two conservation groups’ challenges to Peabody Energy Corp.’s self-bonding.
The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act gives states, as the law’s primary regulators, the option to accept corporate pledges instead of third-party bonds or sureties to cover mine cleanup costs should the company go under.
But coal’s downturn and mining company bankruptcies have sparked fierce criticism from environmentalists and Democrats pushing to ban self-bonding over concerns that taxpayers will ultimately pay for reclamation (Greenwire, June 16).
The Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Western Organization of Resource Councils planned to formally challenge Peabody’s self-bonding obligations in Illinois, Indiana and Wyoming until the world’s largest public-sector coal company filed for bankruptcy in April (Greenwire, March 8).
Bankruptcy automatically put a hold on any attempt to force Peabody to replace self-bonds. The company holds roughly a third of the nation’s $3.7 billion in total self-bonding — including $92 million in Illinois, $163 million in Indiana and nearly $800 million in Wyoming.
Schermer yesterday said citizens could file their grievances with the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.
He wrote that critics “may advocate their position regarding the Debtor’s and its affiliates timely satisfying self-bonding requirements of jurisdictions in Illinois, Indiana, and Wyoming.”
Schermer, however, said groups could not sue or take any action to interfere with Peabody’s mine permits, renewals or modifications. The company is going through a court-supervised restructuring process.
“ELPC will continue to work with our partners to ensure that Peabody Energy’s and other coal mine companies’ bonding practices are in the public’s interest and that taxpayers are not saddled with the costs of mine reclamation and clean-up responsibilities,” Environmental Law & Policy Center Executive Director Howard Learner said in a statement.