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Illinois Looking for Better Deal in Coal Cleanup?

Environmentalists are claiming a win now that a federal judge is allowing them to weigh in on the largest U.S. coal producer's bankruptcy hearings. (iStockphoto)
Environmentalists are claiming a win now that a federal judge is allowing them to weigh in on the largest U.S. coal producer's bankruptcy hearings. (iStockphoto)
July 28, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Peabody Energy, the largest coal producer in the U.S., reached a deal this week with several states on plans to cover the costs of mine cleanups. Illinois is not among them and environmentalists said that could be a good sign.

The company is filing for bankruptcy and has been allowed to self-bond - essentially a promise to pay for coal site cleanup without actually setting aside the cash. Peabody operates several coal mines in Illinois and according to the state's attorney general, the energy company could be on the hook for $92 million to reclaim the sites if they're shut down.

That money should not have to come from Illinois taxpayers, said Howard Learner with the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

"The state of Illinois has not filed a stipulation with Peabody,” Lerner said. “And we're pleased that Governor Rauner and the Illinois Attorney General are looking harder at this one, and reassessing what's the fair balance here in light of Peabody's legal responsibilities."

Learner said that the deal Peabody reached with Indiana could force the state's taxpayers to foot about 80 percent of the bill to clean up the company's coal sites. So far, Illinois has not made a deal with Peabody.

In July, a federal bankruptcy judge allowed groups, including the Environmental Law and Policy Center, to weigh in on the court proceedings. Learner called it a breakthrough decision that could help keep Peabody accountable.

"What that really means,” Learner said, "is the court's attention is now focused on Peabody living up to its legal responsibility to fully fund the mine reclamation and hear the arguments about why those costs should not be shifted onto the public."

The groups are expected to head back to court in August. St. Louis-based Peabody Energy filed for bankruptcy in April. In a statement Tuesday, the company's president said Peabody is committed to its reclamation obligations.

To read more information, visit elpc.org.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - IL