Peabody finances could cost Illinois millions for coal cleanup

Peabody Coal is responsible for cleaning up multiple coal mines across southern Illinois, but after losing billions last year the Illinois attorney general has openly questioned whether it has the money.

After multiple rounds of layoffs at the local coal mines, Saline County business owner Thomas Folder says things have been slow for a while now.

"Businesses were way, way off, because Saline County and Harrisburg has relied so much on coal mining,” said Folder. “Coal mining is what has kept all of us in business."

Layoffs have business down as much as 90 percent, but that’s not what worries Stephen Karns, whose home overlooks a strip mine.

"It worries us that we’re going to be stuck with it,” said Karns. “Peabody made a commitment to the community and to the county that it would be better than it was prior to mining. It was a 200-year-old forest of virgin timber, and now we have a pile of dirt."

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan recently asked Peabody Coal to show that they had $92 million on hand to clean up and reclaim sites like this in southern Illinois. 

Georgia de la Garza of the Community Futures Initiative says Madigan’s inquiry is too little too late.

"We had a 5,000 signature petition, but nothing has been done by Lisa Madigan,” said de la Garza. “Nothing has been done.  Permits were signed and heads were turned."

"They simply signed a document that says we promise to put it back the way it was,” said Karns.  “There’s no legal stance to force them to do this."

If Peabody files for bankruptcy, Madigan says the cleanup will fall back on taxpayers.

Peabody Coal has 30 days to respond to the attorney general’s inquiry.

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