Although Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal producer, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April, it has still paid its lobbyists $1.2 million this year, according to federal disclosures.
Among the company’s lobbyists: several former congressional staffers and three former members of Congress, including onetime House Democratic leader and two-time presidential candidate Dick Gephardt of Missouri.
According to the filings with the House Clerk’s office, Gephardt and other Peabody lobbyists have visited the offices of members of Congress and federal agencies to press their case on a variety of issues of concern to the St. Louis-based company.
Gephardt’s firm also has lobbied for Prairie State Generating, the operator of a relatively new coal-fired power plant in southern Illinois that’s proved more costly and less efficient than originally envisioned. Earlier this year, Peabody sold its stake in Prairie State.
Peabody was the most recent in a series of coal-industry bankruptcies, fueled by an abundance of cheap natural gas, depressed demand and prices, and regulatory pressures.
As Peabody and other coal operators have sought bankruptcy protection, they have laid off workers and closed and sold mines. They’ve negotiated to cut their contributions to pension and health care funds for retired employees. They’re also, in some cases, leaving state and federal taxpayers on the hook for the cleanup costs of their shuttered mines.
At the same time, however, they’ve sought to pay controversial bonuses to retain key employees. In June, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri approved a $3.2 million bonus plan for 42 employees at Peabody’s headquarters.
In June, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri approved a $3.2 million bonus plan for 42 employees at Peabody’s headquarters.
The political activities of coal companies in bankruptcy have attracted relatively little attention, by comparison.
Peabody is on track to spend $1.6 million on lobbying this year, a sharp decline from the nearly $7 million it spent in 2011.
In a statement, Beth Sutton, a Peabody spokeswoman, said the company’s recent lobbying activity was a response to the pressures facing the industry.
“We are highly confident that our lobbying expenditures support actions aimed at both protecting the company but also offering positive reform initiatives through technology and are in the best interests of our stakeholders,” she said.
We are highly confident that our lobbying expenditures support actions aimed at both protecting the company but also offering positive reform initiatives through technology and are in the best interests of our stakeholders.
Beth Sutton, Peabody Energy
As is often the case with large corporations, Peabody retains lobbying firms that employ former members of Congress and their staffs. Their experience and connections make them valuable to interests seeking an audience with current officeholders, and they are usually paid quite well for the work they do.
Peabody paid the firm of Greenberg Traurig $260,000 during the first nine months of the year. Its lobbyists include former Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas and former Rep. Al Wynn, a Maryland Democrat.
$260,000 What Peabody has paid Greenberg Traurig to lobby this year.
The company paid the Gephardt Group $150,000 through Sept. 30. Its lobbyists also include Gephardt’s former chief of staff, Thomas O’Donnell, and his former executive assistant, Sharon Daniels.
Gephardt represented St. Louis in Congress from 1977 to 2005, serving as both majority and minority leader. He also sought the Democratic presidential nomination twice, in 1988 and 2004.
$150,000 What Peabody has paid the Gephardt Group to lobby this year.
Prairie State Generating paid Gephardt’s firm $150,000 for the first nine months of the year. Peabody originally invested $250 million in the power plant, which opened in 2012. Earlier this year, the company sold its stake for $57 million to the Wabash Valley Power Association, a nonprofit electric cooperative.
Peabody also paid its own lobbyists $870,000 to advocate at the federal level through a subsidiary, Peabody Investments.