Calling on Wash. U. to cut ties with Peabody Energy

Rachel Goldstein, David Binstock, Madeleine Balchan, Jamal Sadrud-Din

In light of recent behavior by Peabody Energy, we are disappointed to see this corporation continuing to act in its own self-interest, in staunch opposition to the will of the people and at the expense of the public good. We are calling on this university to end its partnership with Peabody Energy.

On Feb. 11, as a result of a suit filed by Peabody, a judge ruling placed a temporary injunction on the city-wide “Take Back St. Louis” ballot initiative. This initiative, which was brought to the Board of Elections with 36,000 signatures, called for the city to end tax incentives to fossil-fuel extraction corporations, and invest public money and lands into renewable energy and sustainability initiatives. Peabody filed for suit against the initiative, claiming discrimination, and the judge ruled in their favor, citing equal protection to constitutional rights under Citizens United, a Supreme Court ruling of which even President Obama has been outwardly critical. This legal action has kept the initiative off of the April 8 ballot.

Elsewhere, in Saline County, Ill., Peabody’s expansion of a mining operation is threatening the local farming community of Rocky Branch. Despite strong opposition from the community, Peabody has continued its aggressive logging of the proposed site, and is attempting to take control of and divert important local roads. Community members are so threatened that they are now blockading the roads to deter Peabody. Residents are also worried about the fate of their town if coal mining operations expand, having witnessed and tolerated the blasting, hazardous coal dust, and polluted waterways of the neighboring Cottage Grove strip mine.

These are not the first instances of unethical or exploitative behavior by Peabody, but it provides an opportune moment for the Washington University community to reflect on its relationship with unscrupulous corporations.

Peabody Energy has a long history of questionable behavior:

•As the world’s largest private sector coal company, it is estimated to be solely accountable for 0.86 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

•Their coal mining operation in the Black Mesa Plateau in Arizona, has led to the forced relocation of thousands of the local native Navajo and Hopi tribes, and the draining and polluting of the natural aquifer there.

•The company’s past mining operations in Appalachia included the intrusive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining, which has dire impacts on Appalachian communities.

•Peabody is a large supporting member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), having a representative on their Private Enterprise Advisory Council. ALEC is a strong advocate of various controversial pieces of legislation, including “Stand Your Ground” laws and strict immigration laws.

•From union busting to consistently unsafe mining conditions, Peabody has a long history of mistreating its workers. In 2007, they offloaded thousands of retiree pension plans and healthcare benefits to a spin-off company, Patriot Coal, which filed for bankruptcy in 2012, defaulting on all of those monetary obligations.

As students and future alumni, we are uncomfortable having such close ties to this amoral company, and call upon Washington University to cut them. Although the exact nature of our relationship is unknown as donor records are not disclosed, we do know the following: our relationship with Peabody dates only to the mid-2000s; Gregory Boyce, CEO of Peabody, has been a chairman on our Board of Trustees since 2009; William Rusnack, another Peabody executive, is on the National Council of Olin Business School; and Peabody partners with Wash. U. and others in promoting the Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization. Regarding this last point, we disapprove of Wash. U.’s aid in green-washing the fossil fuel industry through use of a misleading industry term, not the research itself.

We want to be confident in the University’s commitment to its mission statement, which claims we must “strive to enhance the lives and livelihoods of students, the people of the greater St. Louis community, the country, and the world…to provide an exemplary, respectful, and responsive environment for living, teaching, learning, and working for present and future generations…to judge ourselves by the most exacting standards.“

We want to feel confident that our tuition dollars and donations are going to a university that is committed to global stewardship and service to humanity, and that does not condone irresponsible corporate behavior by association and cooperation with companies like Peabody Energy. Washington University cannot reach its full potential as a leader in progress, innovation, learning and public service if we are held down by commitments to companies like Peabody Energy. We may not be able to stop such corporations from doing what they will, but we can certainly stop our passive acceptance and our implicit role in their actions.

  • Patricia Chadwick

    Students don’t need to “demonize the oil industry”. The oil industry does a very good job of that all by themselves with no outside help. It’s “par for the course with them”. It’s how the industry does business.

  • Scott N.

    Oh OK. Let’s see how long it takes these Wash U students to find the solution to the world’s increasing energy demands. The truth is, they don’t have any, except they’ve been schooled on how to demonize the coal and oil industries that bring the rest of us Americans who have to bust our rear ends to make a living affordable gas and electric. Oh sure, they know how to spout off how we need more solar panels, windmills, and hydro dams. First of all, Germany, which many liberal progressives consider one of the leaders in this “green” utopia, is actually going back to burning coal because solar, wind, and hydro dams don’t produce enough yield to meet the demand, nor are they cost effective alternatives. And ironically, when projects to build various solar farms, windmills, and hydro dams have been attempted, these same progressive liberals are the first ones to oppose their own solutions because solar stations threaten this bird or this owl, etc.; windmills kill this bird or that bird or this owl, etc., hydro dams because they threaten this fish, that fish, etc etc.. This is all one big liberal disaster area, at the expense of this nation’s economy. Surely, coal mining operations impact some negatively, but how many more does it benefit? The impact is ten-fold. Who makes their living off coal? The miners, the equipment manufacturers, their employees, the railroad crews, railroad track workers, railroad dispatchers, railcar builders, power plant workers, power plant equipment manufacturers, truck drivers, construction crews, barge operators, the folks who own shops and and gas stations and restaurants — entire towns near these mines, and the list goes on and on. I’ll wage the coal industry pumps billions into our nation’s economy, hundreds of millions into Illinois’ economy.. Environmentally, modern coal plants can scrub out much of the coal ash and exhaust with filtration systems, and generally, we don’t have to worry about an accident at a coal plant threatening large populations like a nuclear plant does. But, Wash U kids could care less about that. I’m going to take a wild guess that most of the kids involved in this protest have never flipped a burger to make a living or have a group of hungry mouths at home to feed are telling us how evil all this is. Unreal.

  • eric

    yo, i’ve been itchen for more action on this for awhile. my name is eric, and i’m an art student at umsl. email me so that we may begin coordinating efforts on both campuses ([email protected]). i’ve really slacked though, having yet to form a sncc equivalent for divestment. however, i have found out that umsl’s finances are tied to mizzou, umkc, and ums&t’s. i spoke with one of their board members on the phone; he said “no” lolololololololpopl thank you for publishing this op-ed; you’re there! ^^

  • Just Sayin

    lol I dont know if the person answering as “Peabody” is someone trolling or if its actually them but boy do they sound like an a——.

  • Joe

    clearly this group of students is up against some very reactionary, very well-funded opposition, and their ideological minions amongst the conservative campus population.

    Best of luck to all you seekers of justice, in working towards a world that is democratic, humane, and free of fossil fuels

    • Balanced

      Joe, why are people who disagree with the liberal status quo here at the university by default “ideological minions” of the evil corporation?

  • Peabody

    ST. LOUIS, April 3, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU) Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Gregory H. Boyce today called on business and energy leaders to solve energy inequality by creating a level of energy access that enables all people everywhere to have the same high standard of living enjoyed in the developed world.

    “Energy inequality is the blight of energy poverty, limiting access to basic needs like food, water and medicine; stunting education and cutting lives short,” said Boyce. “Every one of the U.N. Millennium Development goals depends on adequate energy, yet today one out of every two citizens lacks adequate energy and over 4 million lives are lost yearly due to the impacts of this scourge.”

    Boyce commented on what he calls the world’s number one human and environmental crisis during a wide-ranging interview with Wall Street Journal Assistant Managing Editor and Executive Business Editor John Bussey. Top CEOs, policymakers and global leaders were part of the audience at the 2014 ECO:nomics conference in Santa Barbara, Calif.

    Consider these statistics:

    — Globally 3.5 billion people lack proper energy access, and 1.2 billion
    are children.

    — About half the children in the developing world attend schools without

    — Some 1 billion people receive substandard healthcare because of a lack of

    — The global population is expanding by more than 200,000 people each day,
    and by 2050, the world’s population is forecast to exceed 9.6 billion,
    with over two-thirds living in cities.
    Boyce said energy inequality is an issue for both developing and developed nations. “More energy is needed to create energy access for billions, to sustain growth for a new global middle class and improve access to low-cost electricity. Too many families in developed nations face the tough choice of paying for food or energy,” he said.

    “The greatest environmental crisis we confront today is not a crisis predicted by computer models but a human crisis fully within our power to solve,” Boyce said.

    Boyce called for driving policies and actions that increase access to reliable, low-cost power using today’s advanced coal technologies that extends lives, builds economies and improves natural and indoor environments.

    Coal has the scale to meet these needs, and today’s high-efficiency supercritical coal plants have state-of-the-art controls and ultra-low emission rates. Every large, advanced coal plant brings the equivalent carbon benefit of removing 1 million cars from the road.

    “Policies that force use of more expensive, less reliable energy push costs throughout the economy and place the heaviest burden on the world’s poor and low-income citizens. We need all forms of energy to address global needs, and we must recognize the strengths and limitations of each choice. Advanced coal is the sustainable fuel at scale that can meet these needs,” Boyce said.

    Coal has been the fastest-growing major fuel the past decade and is set to surpass oil as the world’s largest fuel in coming years. Coal’s market share for U.S. electricity generation has increased by one-third in the past two years, and now has twice the market share of natural gas.

    Peabody Energy is the world’s largest private-sector coal company and a global leader in sustainable mining and clean coal solutions. Peabody’s Advanced Energy for Life campaign seeks to raise awareness and support to end global energy poverty, increase access to low-cost electricity and improve emissions using today’s advanced clean coal technologies.

    For further information, visit and


    Beth Sutton

    (928) 699-8243

    Logo –

    SOURCE Peabody Energy

    /Web site:

    • Wash U Student

      It is strategic to redefine the needs of the world to be the very product that your company provides. This is a marketing tactic to try to color Peabody’s self-serving interests. This campaign attempts to redirect the conversation surrounding coal in an effort to push policies that would forward the interests and profits of Peabody:

      “Boyce called for driving policies and actions that increase access to reliable, low-cost power using today’s advanced coal technologies that extends lives, builds economies and improves natural and indoor environments.”

      If Boyce is interested in improving natural and indoor environments, he might first stop the pollution and destruction of natural environments caused by his companies mining techniques, if he were interested in improving lives he might not have forcibly relocated tens of millions of Navajo families to put in strip mines or tried to evade thousands of United Mine Worker retiree pension plans, and if Boyce is interested in building economies his company could start by supporting the local St. Louis economy by paying his fair share of city, state and federal taxes and stop taking tax breaks.

      We see right through this marketing campaign, and we’re unimpressed.

      • Peabody

        The Navajo Indians sued Peabody for profit that they believed belong to them from COAL! Don’t paint them as victims when they sued and settled for 1.2 billion dollars for their piece of the pie.
        Attorney General Harrison Tsosie was quoted in Peabody’s Aug. 4 press release saying, “The Navajo Nation is pleased the parties were able to come together in a spirit of cooperation to settle this long-standing litigation.”
        Navajo Leaders said:
        “We’ve had our differences, but I hope this settlement will create a new harmony that will benefit everyone involved,”

    • Anonymous
  • WU Senior

    “We may not be able to stop such corporations from doing what they will, but we can certainly stop our passive acceptance and our implicit role in their actions.”

    Spot on. To all the comments that insist that Peabody is here to stay, sure, maybe, whatever – but WU students have a right to divest.

    • peabody

      I agree and think you should have the federal government fund your short sighted education and continue the spiral of the economy. When this perfect energy source that effects nothing and self replenishes appears out of the polluted air, I will be the first to say let’s use it.

  • Anonymous

    Very proud of you all. I knew you all as a student at WashU. Keep up your dedication to justice even after graduation. That’s perhaps when it will matter most, and that’s perhaps when you will be most tempted to live a life dedicated to your own self-interest and monetary accumulation.
    Much love.

  • The Authors Might Be Right…

    The authors might be right, but they haven’t provided a balanced assessment of the situation.

    Were I an investor, I would need a more complete picture in order to make a decision. This Op-Ed piece makes the argument that Peabody’s environmental and social impact is reason enough for WashU to sever all ties with the firm. While this is an emotionally compelling argument, it only accounts for part of Peabody’s total economic impact.

    I would be interested in hearing the other side of this story. What does Peabody contribute to the communities in which it operates? A firm that has had as much success as Peabody Energy must understand the value of reputation and likely tries to balance negative activities with positive ones. Corporations may not always be ethical, but they are rarely stupid.

    Again, the authors may very well be correct in saying that WashU should not associate with Peabody Energy, but I expect that the firm’s total economic impact is more complicated than they have made it seem. Peabody and its leadership are rational, and having an exclusively negative effect on society is not in their best interest.

  • fact check

    Authors need to check their facts. William Rusnack is not an executive, he is a board member at Peabody. Greg Boyce is not chairman of WashU’s Board of Trustees.

    • eh

      let’s not get caught up in linguistics (if they had said he was CHAIRMAN of the board that would be another story, but they just said he was a chairman on the board)

    • Nick

      Well you should have used a semicolon after the word “executive,” so I guess we all make mistakes.

    • Anonymous

      I feel like you didn’t get the point of the article…

    • Students 4 coal

      The authors do not understand the relationship between William and Peabody Energy. The authors do not understand the relationship between Greg and WashU. The authors of this piece have no credibility opining on the WashU/Peabody Energy connection. If someone from Peabody Energy sees this, please don’t think that this op-ed represents the general sentiment of WashU’s students or alumni. In fact, some students would like to see Glenn Kellow become more involved with the WashU/Peabody connection.

      • okay…

        Could you explain what these relationships are and why the authors do not understand them? Also, why would you want more connection between Peabody and WashU?

      • Peabody

        Good to hear. Peabody is a diverse company that is merely a very responsible supplier of coal that has continued success with extreme political terrorism by this present administration. Coal may be a “dirty” raw material through these author’s eyes and an easy target to take aim at after having their lips loaded by Obama and his elaborate speeches. Coal is here to stay for the foreseeable future and an important part of St. Louis’ economy and Peabody is a great company that deserves a little bit of respect and I appreciate someone from the University having your position.

        • anonymous

          “Peabody is…a very responsible supplier of coal that has continued success with extreme political terrorism by this present administration. Coal may be a ‘dirty’ raw material through these author’s eyes and an easy target to take aim at after having their lips loaded by Obama and his elaborate speeches”

          that was all a bit reductionist, don’t you think? making moronic political allusions while supposedly representing an organization under much scrutiny kind of takes away from the opportunity you had to help your cause…

  • Anonymous

    A quick search shows that Peabody reached a $400 million agreement with a coal union for retirement benefits after Patriot Coal filed for bankruptcy: The authors purposely leave this information out to make Peabody look worse.

    • Anonymous

      they still put up a hell of a fight to not have to do so.

    • Julia H.

      Yes, but Peabody only filed that agreement after nearly a year “television and newspaper advertisements and staged monthly demonstrations in the streets outside of Peabody’s downtown corporate headquarters.”

      Do you honestly think that Peabody didn’t do everything they could to get out of these worker contracts before giving in to the pressure of the people?

  • We all use electricity

    Peabody isn’t responsible for .86 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. We, the consumers of the electricity they provide, all bear the responsibility.

    • sarah

      this comment implies that we have a choice in our energy sources; however, the way that this country exists allows for subsidies for fossil fuels due to multibillion dollar political lobbying campaigns. This makes it difficult, almost impossible, for cleaner fuel sources to compete in the current market. Essentially, fossil fuel industries have set things up in such a way that if you want to engage in a modern lifestyle, you MUST use their product. Targeting the fossil fuel industry seems to be one of the only possible ways to push back on that power.

      • Peabody

        Come up with a better form of energy then and Peabody or some other company will start selling it. I am all for free marker, a free market is what makes this country so great!

    • Julia H.

      you’re right–but we also bear the responsibility (as individuals and as an institution) to hold the providers of that electricity accountable

  • Peabody

    Future alumni-
    You might want to understand an industry before you write articles or bite the hand that feeds your University’s private sectors grants.. As a major stock holder of Peabody, I gladly support taking any funding we have with your overpriced school’s grants. The real concern should be on your misinformed left wing special interest groups draining American tax dollars with failed ‘green projects’ that line the pockets of failing companies and a failed energy agenda set forth by this joke of an administration. “global stewardship and service to humanity”, everything you do is ruining the world. Stop using everything you use in your daily life because it is effecting something somewhere! Peabody and coal are not going anywhere anytime soon.

    • peabody’s wrong

      Your view that coal’s going nowhere certainly makes sense if you’re a major Peabody stockholder. However, you’re very wrong. The industry you’re invested in is declining rapidly. Perhaps you should thinking about investing in other things. Also, thanks so much for investing in something that has fundamentally changed the world in which my generation will live. I’m glad you made some bucks in the last few years. Too bad your grandkids won’t have a functional society to enjoy them in.

    • Meg

      I’m glad we can so quickly find some common ground we can both advocate for! If you feel so strongly that Peabody should withdraw private sector grants from our overpriced university, I urge you to let your voice be heard to the CEO of Peabody. We don’t want your dollars, you don’t want to give them. I urge you to take action to make this happen as we will do the same. Thank you for your support in the battle to remove blighted money from our academic institution! You’re the best!

      • Peabody

        What would life be without coal?
        Peabody or some other contriversal company is powers your tablet that you are reading and writing from. Peabody Coal or Company X are in the steel construction of the highest quality buildings and schools along with more things than you can imagine, Your made in China products are all imported in containers on ships that are all using coal. Peabody

        • alum

          While I overall agree with your sentiment, I feel compelled to point out that container ships primarily use diesel or bunker oil. But yeah, WashU students tend to be more or less divorced from reality when it comes to what makes the world run.

    • Brett

      Past student- Are you aware of what the government spends and exempts (in taxes) for your investments to get a return? Are you aware of what your company spends in lobbying to ensure their special treatment in the market? Public money is buoying your retirement plan while people fight Peabody just to stay on their own land a state away.