FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Taking On The World’s Largest Coal Company

“And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away”

-John Prine, Paradise

There’s an insurrection afoot. And it’s in America’s heartlands no less. Bold and effective organizing against oil companies, natural gas companies and coal companies has started this insurrection that has openly challenged these powerful industries. This phenomenon has spread across the country and created unusual coalitions of Indigenous communities, environmental activists and rural landowners opposed to corporate seizures of their property.

The most recent example occurred last week at Peabody Energy’s shareholder meeting in St. Louis. For the second time in less than a week, 11 people were arrested in defiance of the world’s largest coal company. Joining people from St. Louis, Arizona, southern Illinois and other parts of the world, the 11 were arrested while attempting to enter Peabody’s annual shareholder meeting seeking a redress of grievances with the company. From Arizona to the American heartland, Peabody has ravaged communities, the climate, forests and other wild places for over a century.

Arizona

For five decades on Black Mesa, a 2.1-million-acre highland in Northeast Arizona, Peabody has mined coal and exploited the Navajo Aquifer to enrich the company’s executives and shareholders. The Navajo Aquifer is the main source of potable water for the Navajo and Hopi tribes. They use the water for farming and livestock maintenance as well as drinking and other domestic uses. After being blocked from using rail to transport coal to power generation plants that have lit up cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix over the decades, Peabody built a coal slurry pipeline to move the coal instead Furthermore, Peabody’s massive strip mining operations have led to forced relocation of Black Mesa’s residents.

But resistance to Peabody’s operations on Black Mesa has marked a forty year anniversary. Navajo and Hopi residents have long fought Peabody’s colonization of their lands. The struggle is far from over.

Next week, a camp on Black Mesa will bring together many different groups that have long resisted Peabody to further strategize and prepare for campaigns against the coal giant.

Illinois Basin

Turning east to the Illinois basin, Peabody has joined in a historic coalfield revival. The basin spans southern Illinois, western Kentucky and southeastern Indiana. In 2010, Peabody opened a mine called Bear Run, located in Sullivan County, Indiana, which is now the largest strip mine east of the Mississippi and a symbol of the booming Illinois basin. As power plants install scrubber technology that allows the burning of high sulphur coal, coal mining companies are applying for permits and opening strip mines.

The forests and farmlands of America’s heartland are once again becoming a sacrifice zone for cheap electricity and Peabody Coal’s profits.

However, the reckless behavior of Peabody around a proposed strip mine in Rocky Branch, IL has roused residents into action. As Peabody attempts to start operations with no permits and ignoring state regulations, members of the township have been showing up to public hearings and challenging regulators and law enforcement to do their jobs. While Peabody hires notorious public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller to sell dirty coal, Saline County, IL is in open rebellion against the mining giant’s operations.

Writer Jeff Biggers recently noted “Saline County residents and coal miners like my grandfather and family members have taken a fearless stand for coalfield justice, galvanizing mine worker movements, as well as civil rights and environmental campaigns.”

Rocky Branch residents plan to carry on fight through the intervention of law enforcement agencies, in the courts, and through direct public pressure. Despite Peabody’s best efforts, this fight is just beginning.

St. Louis

In St. Louis, two other campaigns are wrecking Peabody’s public image as well. The “Take Back St. Louis” campaign has gone after $60 million in tax breaks that the city gave Peabody beginning in 2010. Getting an initiative on a local ballot to stop these tax breaks for the world’s biggest coal company that take vital funding coming from public schools and other public services, organizers with Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment have sought an intersection between climate justice and economic justice issues.

Peabody, predictably, has responded with lawsuits barring an April vote from going forward. St. Louis Judge Robert Dierker cited Citizen’s United saying that corporations were people and afforded equal protection under the law.

At Washington University at St. Louis, student began a campus occupation in protest of Peabody CEO Greg Boyce sitting on the university’s board of regents. After a multi-week occupation, seven students were arrested attempting to deliver a letter of protest to the board.

The North American direct action movement against the extraction of oil, coal and natural gas has become a beautiful and powerful thing. This broad-based grassroots movement has organized bold and effective campaigns against companies like Peabody Energy. Movements are often a convergence space where issues and communities align against a greater power bent on exploitation and destruction for short term gain. The movement against Peabody has become this very thing.

As Marshall Johnson, Black Mesa Resident and member of Tonizhoni Ani said: “We need to stand up to Peabody on Black Mesa and here in St. Louis so our children and grandchildren and all future generations can have clean water and clean air. I am grateful to Wash U students for standing up for a respectful future for us all.”

Scott Parkin is an organizer with Rainforest Action Network, Rising Tide North America and the Ruckus Society. 

More articles by:

Scott Parkin is a climate organizer working with Rising Tide North America. You can follow him on Twitter at @sparki1969

July 07, 2020
Richard Eskow
The War on Logic: Contradictions and Absurdities in the House’s Military Spending Bill
Daniel Beaumont
Gimme Shelter: the Brief And Strange History of CHOP (AKA CHAZ)
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s War
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Racism May be Blatant, But the Culture He Defends Comes Out of the Civil War and Goes Well Beyond Racial Division
Andrew Stewart
Can We Compare the George Floyd Protests to the Vietnam War Protests? Maybe, But the Analogy is Imperfect
Walden Bello
The Racist Underpinnings of the American Way of War
Nyla Ali Khan
Fallacious Arguments Employed to Justify the Revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s Autonomy and Its Bifurcation
Don Fitz
A Statue of Hatuey
Dean Baker
Unemployment Benefits Should Depend on the Pandemic
Ramzy Baroud – Romana Rubeo
Will the ICC Investigation Bring Justice for Palestine?
Sam Pizzigati
Social Distancing for Mega-Million Fun and Profit
Dave Lindorff
Private: Why the High Dudgeon over Alleged Russian Bounties for Taliban Slaying of US Troops
George Wuerthner
Of Fire and Fish
Binoy Kampmark
Killing Koalas: the Promise of Extinction Down Under
Parth M.N.
Back to School in Rural India: Digital Divide to Digital Partition
Ed Sanders
The Burning of Newgate Prison: a Glyph
July 06, 2020
Melvin Goodman
Foreign Election Interference: Who is to Blame?
JoAnn Wypijewski
On Disposability and Rebellion: Insights From a Rank-and-File Insurgency
Marshall Auerback – Jan Frel
There’s a Hidden Economic Trendline That is Shattering the Global Trade System
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A Just and Talented Government for Our Hazardous Age
Manuel García, Jr.
Biosphere Warming in Numbers
Ron Jacobs
Kidnapping Kids: As American as the Fourth of July
Tasha Jones
Pyramids. Plantations. Projects. Penitentiaries
Binoy Kampmark
Criminalising Journalism: Australia’s National Security Craze
Eve Ottenberg
Re-Organizing Labor
Mike Garrity
How We Stopped Trump From Trashing a Critical Montana Roadless Area in Grizzly Habitat
Nino Pagliccia
The Meaning of the 1811 Independence for Today’s Venezuela
Michael Galant
We Need a Global Green New Deal
Jill Richardson
Learning Not to Look Away
Marshall Sahlins
Donald Trump at 130,000 and Rising
Weekend Edition
July 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Peter Linebaugh
Police and the Wealth of Nations: Déjà Vu or Unfinished Business?
Rob Urie
Class, Race and Power
John Davis
A Requiem for George Floyd
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mutiny of the Bounties!
Richard D. Wolff
Revolutionary Possibilities: Could U.S. Capitalism Turn Nationalist?
Richard Falk
When Rogue States Sanction the International Criminal Court
Louis Proyect
Smearing Black Lives Matter…From the Left
Ralph Nader
Trump and Pence – Step Aside for Professional Pandemic Scientists and Managers
Ramzy Baroud
Tearing Down the Idols of Colonialism: Why Tunisia, Africa Must Demand French Apology
Philippe Marlière
Challenging the French Republic’s Color-Blindness
Richard C. Gross
Attack, Deny
Lee Camp
Connecting the Dates – US Media Used To Stop The ‘Threat’ of Peace
Steve Martinot
The Desire to Kill
David Yearsley
The War on Kitsch
Amy Eva Alberts Warren – Rev. William Alberts
Why are Certain Christians Democratic and Others Authoritarian?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail