Court filings related to the bankruptcy of Peabody Energy, America’s largest coal mining company, have revealed that it funded dozens of groups in order to cast doubt on man-made climate change and oppose environment regulations. Analysis by the Guardian, revealed the funding spanned many lobbying groups and think-tanks, as well as political organizations with ties to both major parties.
The filings do not list amounts or dates, but more information on the size of contributions and their relation to major climate litigation cases will be available following the bankruptcy proceedings.
Its adamant public rejection of climate science made Peabody a strange case even among fossil fuel companies. The company was one of the few going so far as to claim rising carbon emissions were beneficial even as most shied away from public climate change denial. Attempting to confuse correlation and causation, the company claimed rising emissions meant increased economic prosperity while wrapping it up in an emotional appeal claiming coal was the best way to lift people out of poverty. Their work largely ignored or obscured the significant body of research showing the damage climate change is expected to cause, as well as the fact that emissions fell in 2015 while the U.S. economy expanded thanks to increased use of cleaner fuels like natural gas and wind.
These revelations are not the first controversy to hit the company. An earlier settlement deal reached with the New York attorney general had Peabody admit to misleading investors about the potential impact of climate change on its business. However, the court case did little to increase the transparency of its climate denial operations. Fortunately, the sharp drop in coal prices due to competition from cheaper, cleaner resources did more to expose Peabody’s support for climate denial than any lawsuit.
After failing to foresee or compete with cheap natural gas and renewables, Peabody’s management team’s strategy of ignoring the writing on the wall has cost shareholders greatly. Even if they thought a business model that relies on sticking everyone’s heads in the sand was a good way to keep renewables down (it wasn’t), Peabody’s systematic climate change denial efforts were never going to save it from cheap natural gas. It’s hard to guess what they were thinking, if they were thinking at all, but Peabody executives have a lot to answer for.