Recent years have not been kind to the U.S. coal industry, and despite the industry’s claim that the Obama administration’s affinity for clean energy has ruined their business, the reality is that the fracking boom has led to natural gas supplanting coal as the No. 1 electrical power generator in America. Nevertheless, the coal industry has continued to mount losses as more utilities have been complying with federal carbon emissions mandates — even though the Supreme Court’s ruling placed those long-term plans on hold.
Meanwhile, the coal industry has long been accused of funding organizations that deny climate change. Among them is the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal), which promises “free-market environmentalism through strategic litigation.” According to the Center for Media and Democracy, one of E&E Legal’s clients (or financial supporters) is Arch Coal, which is the second largest coal producer in the U.S. and supplies about 13 percent of the country’s coal. As with other American coal-mining companies, Arch Coal has fallen on tough times and is undergoing bankruptcy restructuring as it has struggled with servicing its total debt of at least $4.5 billion. The company is now fighting creditors over the terms of its proposed bankruptcy financing.
Within those bankruptcy documents, according to various sources, is the smoking gun revealing big coal’s link to climate change deniers: the listing of E&E Legal amongst the various creditors seeking payment from Arch Coal. No specific amount owed to E&E Legal was disclosed in the filings, but the organization has certainly shared the coal industry’s outrage over the changes underway within America’s energy portfolio. E&E Legal has long been one of the most vocal organizations in opposition to any climate change related policy coming out of Washington, D.C. and state capitals.
One of E&E Legal’s tactics is the constant requests from climate scientists at public universities for their emails and research related to climate change science. When university professors ignore or refuse such requests, the organization then files a legal complaint, as in the case of scientists at the University of Arizona. Such a tactic is part of what environmental organizations including the Union of Concern Scientists have described as the systematic harassment of climate scientists.
Arch Coal’s financial struggles may halt any such funding nowadays, but the company’s bankruptcy has affected the environment in other ways. While coal companies are mandated under U.S. law to pay for the remediation of land that they have mined back to its original condition, a loophole has allowed Arch Coal to stall efforts to reclaim one of the country’s largest coal mines in Wyoming. Despite the estimated $485 million in cleanup costs required by the company, Wyoming regulators recently agreed to lower that amount to $92 million. The coal industry may have lost the energy war, but plenty of unsettled battles ensure its impact on the American landscape, and politics, will linger indefinitely.
Image credit: Flickr (EcoFlight)
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media. His previous work can be found at The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.