Greenwire: Federal Judge Allows ELPC to Challenge Peabody Cleanup Bonds

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.

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Breaking News: Bankruptcy Judge Rules Self-Bonding Challenge Can Move Forward

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                     

July 20, 2016


David Jakubiak

Federal Bankruptcy Court Allows Environmental Groups to Move Forward On Peabody’s Self-Bonding of Coal Mine Reclamation


Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

St. Louis – Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to Federal Bankruptcy Judge Barry Schermer’s ruling today allowing efforts to move forward that could help prevent any effort to shift coal mine clean-up costs on to the public as part of any bankruptcy restructuring:

“The Federal Bankruptcy Court recognized that the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Western Organization of Resource Councils are ‘parties in interest’ and can proceed to comment on Peabody Energy’s obligation to fully perform mine reclamation and environmental cleanups at its coal mines in Illinois, Indiana, New Mexico and Wyoming.”

“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.”


Chicago Tribune: ELPC’s Learner Asserts Houbolt Road Bridge Project Affirms Need to Kill Proposed Illiana Tollway

Environmentalists see Houbolt Bridge as Alternative to Illiana Toll Road
By Susan DeMar Lafferty

News of the proposed new Houbolt Road Bridge from Interstate 80 into the CenterPoint Intermodal Center in Joliet and Elwood was viewed as a positive step toward improving safety and relieving the truck traffic that has clogged local roads. However, some feel it should also serve as a signal that the shelved Illiana toll road project is no longer needed.

Environmental groups said the bridge — expected to be open by 2019 — is a key piece in improving the local transportation system, and a cost-effective alternative to the 47-mile Illiana toll road, that was to connect Interstate 55 in Wilmington to Interstate 65 near Lowell, Ind.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center, Sierra Club and Openlands, who have fought against the Illiana toll road in state and federal courts, claim it is a “financial boondoggle,” that would have “disastrous impacts” on Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery — both located along Route 53 — and other natural open spaces in that area, such as the Des Plaines River Conservation Area.

In a July 11 press conference, Gov. Bruce Rauner said the CenterPoint Intermodal Center in Joliet and Elwood, would pay $170 million to construct the new bridge and the state would pay $21 million to widen Houbolt to four lanes and improve the interchange at I-80 and Houbolt — money that Rauner said is in the budget.

Officials hope it will offer relief to the heavy truck traffic that has choked Route 53, interfered with funeral processions at the national cemetery, caused traffic accidents and prompted the Village of Elwood to launch a web-based public safety campaign,

The bridge project makes it “all the more clear” that the Illiana should be brought to its “well-deserved end,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “I hope Rauner and IDOT (Illinois Department of Transportation) will bring it to an end once and for all.”


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.”


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