Peabody Coal BlackenedMay 13th, 2011

You may have heard that the country’s biggest coal merchant, Peabody Energy, isn’t giving away asthma inhalers and isn’t actually a sponsor of coalcares dot org. It was an outfit called “Coal is Killing Kids” that posted the aggressively satirical Internet page with its offer of free Elmo and Batman inhalers, mocking the idea of “safe” coal with black humor. You should visit the site, the creation of a band of notorious pranksters known as The Yes Men, even if you’re already opposed to coal-burning.

A couple of days ago, Jacques Servin received an ultimatum from Andrew Baum, a lawyer with the firm of Foley Lardner, giving Servin and his collaborators 24 hours to remove all references to Peabody Coal from the CoalCares site. Otherwise, wrote Baum, “Peabody will have no choice but to commence a civil action against you and the other individuals involved in this infringement, seeking immediate and permanent injunctive relief, treble damages, costs and attorneys’ fees.”  Baum expressed concern that readers might be confused, thinking CoalCares is serious and Peabody is behind it.

Here’s the reply that went out today:

“Dear Andrew Baum, Foley Lardner LLP, and Peabody Energy,

“Thank you for your thoughtful letter demanding that we remove Peabody’s name from and cease falsely suggesting that Peabody cares about kids made sick by coal.

“Your threat, although entirely baseless . . . did make us realize one thing: that Peabody, despite being our country’s largest coal producer, and one of the largest lobbyists against common-sense policy, accounts for a mere 17% of U.S. coal production. The remaining 83% comes from 28 other companies, who are, every bit as much as Peabody, giving kids asthma attacks and other illnesses.

“As even you may agree, the root of the problem is not Peabody, but rather our system of subsidies, regulations, and lobbying that lets your whole industry continue its lethal work. To make this clear, we have changed every instance of the word “Peabody” on to a rotating selection of the names of other large U.S. coal producers who, like Peabody, also need to be stopped from killing kids.

“Very truly yours,

“Coal is Killing Kids and the Yes Lab


“P.S. You suggest in your letter that ‘Peabody has a First Amendment right not to be involved with the dissemination of a message with which it does not agree,’ a statement which, while completely untrue, does recall the World Resources Institute’s longstanding demand that you cease falsely attributing to them the nonsense statistic that ‘for every 10-fold increase in per-capita energy use, individuals live 10 years longer.’ As the WRI notes:

‘First, WRI has never made such an assertion and has never done analysis to that effect. Second, this conclusion ignores critical factors related to energy production and human health. WRI’s longstanding support for a global transition to cleaner, low-carbon energy is well-documented.’

“We would be grateful if you would stop misquoting WRI and issue a corrective statement within the next 24 hours.”

I visited, and I wasn’t confused by any of it. Furious, yes, but not confused. We burn coal out of sheer ignorance, and we’re ignorant because of a systematic campaign of disinformation by corrupt government and corrupt media. Coal is Killing Kids and The Yes Men are a faint voice of challenge to the forces of evil that still compel us to burn carbon.