Peabody, me and “the security blanket of US coal reserves”

Written by Becky Tarbotton

Topics: Coal, Finance

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So this morning at the Carbon Capture and Sequestration conference I had the opportunity to hear the infamous Fred Palmer, Sr. Vice President of Peabody coal do his ‘I love coal’ rap. And jeez louise does that old boy know how to lay it on thick. I had been promised that he was likely to actually rub his hands together with glee when talking about his favorite black rock, but today he opted for the more measured ‘all the other fuels are going to run out except coal and that’s good because coal doesn’t just keep the lights on it also grows trees, teaches our children, gives us healthcare, makes the sky blue and the grass green’ approach. Not terribly convincing, but certainly amusing so long as you don’t think too hard about Peabody’s severe climate impacts and human rights violations.

Oh yes and Fred thinks we need to burn more coal, not less. He’s very excited about new coal-fired power plants, as you can probably imagine. I think his exact words were: “We’ve got 250 billion tonnes of coal that we’re gonna gasify, liquify and burn. When I get an anxiety attack about our growing energy needs I wrap myself in the security blanket of our coal reserves”.

At question-time I challenged Fred on Peabody’s treatment of coal-field communities and asked him how in the world he thought that any new coal-fired power plants were going to be built when coal and construction costs are rising exponentially (even without CCS), 60 plants have been canceled in the last year alone and 75% of the American public supports a moratorium on new coal development.

Fred almost sputtered with indignation at my assertion that Peabody doesn’t have a squeaky clean human rights record – but then he started rambling on about public coal-fired power plants and completely lost me in what seemed to be an effort to argue that the fact that he’d worked in civil service for a couple of years nullified the devastating impacts of Peabody’s mining operations.

But what really amazed me was this choice line:
“We’re going to put SNG in the pipelines, send it to California and they won’t even know they’re USING coal”.

I kid you not, he actually said that. He then followed up with another doozy: “If you go to the Powder River Basin you don’t see any scars – the land is better than it was before”.

Apparently so is Appalachia.

My sense listening to Fred’s reply to my question was that here is a man who is fighting for his industry’s life. Just like Ken Lewis at Bank of America when I questioned him about his coal investments – Fred Palmer knows that the writing is on the wall, that coal is over. That’s why he and the entire coal industry is clinging so desperately to the CCS life-raft. Trouble is, the thing doesn’t float.

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