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Haul trucks transport coal at Peabody Energy's North Antelope Rochelle mining complex in the Powder River Basin in 2012. Peabody Energy

Peabody Energy is not responsible for climate impacts incurred before its 2016 bankruptcy filing, a judge ruled this week.

The world's largest private coal company is one of 37 fossil fuel companies being sued by three municipalities in California for damages due to climate change caused by burning fossil fuels and for conducting a "coordinated, multi-front effort" to discredit climate science.

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Update: Rocky Branch residents are reporting that decorated Vietnam War-veteran Glen Kellen, a Rocky Branch resident, has been arrested this morning, as he attempted to move his cross and protest sign closer to the public road.

Despite an appeal over the controversial Rocky Branch strip mine permit still pending with an Illinois Department of Natural Resources administrative judge, Peabody Energy defiantly closed down public roads and moved massive mining equipment in Saline County yesterday, in preparation to carry out its already violation-ridden and state-subsidized mine operation.

Rocky Branch, Illinois. Photo credit: Jeff Lucas / Gutting the Heartland

Calling out clear violations of the state's mine permitting process, civil rights and environmental justice policies, besieged farm residents facing toxic mine blasting and water contamination within yards of their homes and wells have appealed to Gov. Pat Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan to halt the state's flawed mine permit process.

"I feel the Attorney General has abandoned us by dragging her feet and letting Peabody destroy a community," Rocky Branch resident Jennifer Dumbris said. "She has the power to stop what is going on until investigations are through but seems to rather look the other way, while Peabody is conducting business as usual."

Last spring, thousands of Illinois residents appealed to Madigan to investigate the numerous inconsistencies and permit violations in the Rocky Branch mine process. Where does the AG stand now?

On behalf of civil rights and environmental justice in Rocky Branch?

Or with Peabody Energy CEO Greg Boyce, who declared in Australia last week that "coal always wins."

In truth, Peabody was named as a party subject to discovery in a recent law suit over the Prairie State coal-fired plant, “a scheme by Peabody," according to Illinois state residents, "to create a market for its high-sulfur, high-ash coal reserves in Southern Illinois.” A UK judge also ruled this week that Peabody's "clean coal" ad campaign is misleading.

Peabody coal equipment on Rt. 13, Saline County, IL.

Photo credit: Shawnee Hills and Hollers

If Gov. Quinn and Attorney General Madigan can step in and halt the proposed Banner strip mine, why can't they step in and halt the violation-ridden permits of the proposed Rocky Branch strip mine?

If Gov. Quinn and Attorney General Madigan can step in and halt petcoke coal dust, a "serious public health threat facing the residents," why can't they step in and halt the admitted unprotected health threat of toxic coal dust in Rocky Branch?

According to the IDNR permit for Rocky Branch, released earlier this spring, toxic coal dust from blasting, which will occur only a few hundred feet from resident homes, farms and wells, is not even considered:

If Quinn and Madigan can campaign to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired plants, why can't they stop the unnecessary and CO2-exploding Peabody mine in Saline County from being loaded onto barges and shipped for dirty coal-fired plants overseas?

"Why is it that electric cigarettes are more important to make a decision on than the health and well being of a community of 70 and 80-year-olds that are law-abiding, tax-paying citizens," Dumbris added. "It is nothing but profit over people."

Yesterday, as equipment trundled across the state highway and down public roads in Saline County, Rocky Branch residents protested and held signs, "God Save Rocky Branch."

Rocky Branch, Illinois. Photo credit: Shawnee Hills and Hollers

That it—until Gov. Quinn, Attorney General Madigan and the courts uphold regulatory laws and fair mining practices, as well as civil rights and environmental justice.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Appalachian Voices

By Brian Sewell

In April, millions of Americans who oppose mountaintop removal celebrated two major court rulings that dealt “major blows” to the coal industry’s use of the destructive practice. But a grim reminder of the work ahead came a week ago, when residents of West Virginia’s Coal River Valley received a letter from Alex Energy, Inc., saying that they’re not done yet.

Shared on Facebook by Coal River Mountain Watch, the terse letter is a soulless script, and very matter-of-factly makes residents aware of the scheduled daily detonations that will likely rattle homes and coat buildings with coal dust. For the next year, residents of Naoma, WV, will be reminded of the true cost of our energy policy by air horn blasts and explosions, courtesy of Alex Energy.

More than 150 homes received this letter from Alex Energy, Inc., alerting them of the year of daily detonations ahead. Courtesy of Coal River Mountain Watch.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month upheld a permit for Alpha Natural Resources’ Highland Reylas mountaintop removal mine in Logan County, WV, despite the fact that it will destroy two and a half miles of streams. In its ruling, the panel of judges wrote that “with the inability to demonstrate that the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] failed to take a ‘hard look,’ the [plaintiff’s] arguments are reduced to no more than a substantive disagreement with the Corps.”

While headlines in major news outlets claim “Coal is Dead,” residents of Appalachia rightfully have their doubts. With little recourse available, they are still being asked to accept the systematic destruction of their homeland and heritage as the cost of doing business. Despite recent victories over the coal industry’s use of mountaintop removal, coal is not dead and neither is the most destructive method used to mine it.

In Central Appalachia, proud, self-reliant people have been recast as dependent on the coal industry for shelter, food and meaning. Entire communities have been backed into the absolutely disheartening and hopeless position that, even as the coal production and demand declines, mining will forever be the one opportunity they have to make a living. But recently, it has become clear that even the coal industry cannot keep its promises to miners and their families.

Last week, a federal judge in St. Louis, MO, ruled in favor of the bankrupt Patriot Coal in the company’s attempt to gut health care and pension benefits of thousands of workers and retirees. In response, leaders of the United Mine Workers of America are organizing protests and rallies in St. Louis and throughout Central Appalachia. Union members and observers argue that Patriot was intentionally saddled with unsustainable pension and long-term health care obligations when Peabody Coal formed it as a separate company in 2007.

“The outcome will be less health care for the retirees, a poorer future for those retirees, who will likely die earlier than they would have otherwise died due to poor health care,” Kentucky State Rep. Brent Yonts told the Associated Press. Rep. Yonts described the ruling as “the day big business struck down the little guy.”

For decades, coal companies have destroyed forests, brought down more than 500 mountains, poisoned water and fragmented communities. They’ve extracted billions of dollars from the region but cannot meet their obligations to the workforce that allowed them to do so. And yet, the industry is still willing to portray itself as the savior of Appalachia.

After hard-won battles, mountaintop removal and the long list of environmental and health concerns that come with it continue. Somehow policymakers and citizens remain willing to accept the coal industry’s assurance that it will get better, that they’re just not done yet.

Visit EcoWatch’s MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL and COAL pages for more related news on this topic.

CREDO Action

The U.S. Forest Service is on the verge of approving a land swap that would give Peabody Energy, the largest private coal company in the world, 384 acres of the Shawnee National Forest along the Saline River in Illinois.1

In exchange, the Forest Service would receive three other parcels of land, parts of which are former agricultural land and abandoned mine sites.

Trading part of a national forest to a dirty coal company that will destroy forests and pollute the environment is a terrible idea, especially along a river.

The Forest Service is currently accepting public comments on the proposed land swap, and we need to make sure it knows that Illinois residents are opposed to sacrificing forests to a dirty coal mining operation.

In addition to the air and water pollution Peabody's mining operations would cause in the Shawnee National Forest, giving Peabody Energy access to additional coal reserves will ultimately fuel climate change, which increases threats to forests from wildfires and insect outbreaks.2

Peabody has a well-deserved reputation as one of the least environmentally-friendly companies in the U.S. In fact, in Newsweek Magazine's 2009 green rankings of America's 500 largest corporations, Peabody was rated dead last.3

The company also has a long and extensive track record of safety violations. In 2010 alone Peabody was cited for 3,233 mine safety violations in the U.S.—an average of more than nine per day. And one of the company's coal mines in Illinois, the Willow Lake Mine, received more than 900 violations in 2010.4

Giving Peabody Energy access to federally-owned land in Illinois would be a huge mistake, and the Forest Service should immediately reject the proposal.

Tell the Forest Service—Don't let Peabody Energy destroy Illinois' forests.

For more information, click here.

—————

1. Comments Sought on Land Swap Between Forest Service and Peabody, The Daily Register, Dec. 28, 2011
2. Climate Change—Health and Environmental Effects, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
3. Peabody Energy—Green Rating, Newsweek
4. Peabody Energy—Safety Violations in U.S. Mines, Sourcewatch

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