Mr Peabody’s Gravy Train

April 8, 2020

Then the coal company came with the world’s largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man

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

The late John Prine’s most famous song might be “Paradise”, a lament about the rape of appalachian landscapes by “Mr Peabody’s Coal trains” and “the world’s largest shovel”. It was one of the first songs I learned when I picked up a guitar in college.
I wasn’t clear the first time I heard it that there was an actual Peabody coal, that really had been raping landscapes across the heartland.

Peabody, like every other coal company around the world, was hit hard by the renewable energy revolution, and filed for bankruptcy in 2016.

The bankruptcy filing was a cat-scan into the workings of the anti-science movement and its funding.


Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, has provided funds to a network of individuals, scientists, non-profits and political organizations espousing climate change denial and opposition to efforts to tackle climate change, according to newly available documents reviewed by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD/PRWatch).

The recipients of funding from Peabody Energy were made public in the company’s recent bankruptcy filings.

Although the documents filed so far do not show the scale or precise dates of funding—they only list current creditors—they demonstrate for the first time that Peabody Energy has financial ties to a very large proportion of the network of groups promoting disinformation around climate change.

Who Received Peabody Cash?

* Willie Soon. According to the list, prominent and controversial climate change denial scientist Willie Wei-Hock Soon has received cash from Peabody.

Soon, who is not actually a Climate Scientist but an Aerospace Engineer, works for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and espouses the widely discredited position that it is sun spots and not CO2 that is a major driver of change in the climate.

He is known to have received significant funds from the fossil fuel industry for his work in the past, including from ExxonMobil and Southern Company.

But this is the first known support from Peabody Energy for Soon, whose role with the Smithsonian Institute has proven to be quite controversial.

Who else is financially tied to Peabody?

* The Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), which recently released a film—”Climate Hustle“—spreading disinformation about climate change. Its position is that increased CO2 is “beneficial” to plant growth and therefore a good thing for the planet.

* Similar views on climate change are promoted by numerous other groups that have received funds from Peabody, including the Center For The Study Of Carbon Dioxide And Global Change. The group’s founder, current Chairman and former President, Craig Idso told an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in 2011: “CO2 is not a pollutant. It is a benefit. It is the very elixir of life.”

ALEC is another recipient of Peabody funding. Peabody sits on the ALEC corporate board, participates in the Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, and according to the bankruptcy filings it has provided funding for numerous other ALEC events and “scholarship funds” to bring state legislators to ALEC conferences and events. A lobbyist from Peabody Energy told legislators at a ALEC conference that it is seeking “guerrilla warfare” against the EPA. ALEC has long promoted climate change denial at its annual meetings and through its “model” legislation.

* The State Policy Network (SPN), a network of corporate funded think tanks at the state level, which works to promote an agenda closely tied to that of ALEC on a range of issues.

SPN and its member think tanks have increasingly been active opposing action to tackle climate change at the state level, in particular in opposition to the Obama-administration’s Clean Power Plan.

* Select SPN members are also listed as having had direct financial ties to Peabody, including the Independence Institute from Colorado, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation. (In 2013, CMD co-released a report on SPN titled “The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government.“)

Berman And Company, the public relations firm run by Richard Berman, with long ties to corporate America and a reputation for creating front groups and spreading disinformation. Richard Berman was called Dr. Evil by 60 Minutes in 2007. In 2015, two Berman front-groups, the Employment Policies Institute and the Interstate Policy Alliance, worked together with SPN think tanks to release and promote reports at the state-level providing opposition to the Clean Power Plan. CMD helped release and analyze audio of his pitch to corporations to attack environmental groups, labor, and foundations.

* The Energy & Environment Legal Institute and the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic.

These two organizations, which share numerous staff and consultants including lawyers David Schnare and Chris Horner, have developed a reputation for filing overly broad public record requests with climate scientists, including seeking unpublished work product and personal emails. When scientists and their universities fail to turn over everything that the organizations has asked for, the organizations file lawsuits, often tying scientists up in litigation for many years. The actions of these groups has been called “harassment“.

The last of these groups I’ve come to know well, as I’ve interviewed a number of the scientists who have been targets for E&E Legal’s campaign of intimidation and harassment.

3 Responses to “Mr Peabody’s Gravy Train”

  1. Marie Koper Says:

    Wikipedia-Muhlenberg County:

    The Bucyrus Erie 3850-B Power Shovel named “Big Brother” went to work next door to Paradise Fossil Plant for Peabody Coal Company’s Sinclair Surface Mine in 1962. When it started work it was received with grand fanfare and was the largest shovel in the world with a bucket size of 115 cubic yards. After it finished work in the mid-1980s, it was buried in a pit on the mine’s property, where it remains.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    The list of climate change denying individuals and organizations that Peabody supported is mind-blowing. A truly evil company that will not be missed if and when it finally disappears.

    In the meantime, Peabody is trying to use the bankruptcy to evade mine cleanup costs, screw its miners on retirement and health benefits, and preserve its profits. It continues to operate its mines and pay big bucks to its executives. Burn in hell, Peabody. (Which raises the question of how much GHG emissions will rise when we finally fill hell with all the deserving ones and burn them up?)

  3. Ben Fulton Says:

    I went down to Muhlenberg County just to see what it was like, one time. There’s nothing there now but a crossroads – one of the roads is named Paradise Road. We got out and walked around and in the field next to it was the biggest working machine I’ve ever seen. Whether it was the world’s largest shovel I don’t know, but it was freaking huge.

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