The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 13, 2013

Settled

Peabody finally accepts its responsibility; Congress, president should do the same


— It was heartening last week to see that Peabody Energy Corp. finally stepped up and took responsibility for the mess it had created with Patriot Coal.

Patriot was spun off from Peabody in 2007 and filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

Some, such as the United Mine Workers of America, say the Patriot spin-off was set up to fail in a deliberate plan to end Peabody’s benefit obligations to retirees.

The long, contentious court battle — and a series of demonstrations against both Peabody and Patriot by the UMWA — ensued.

An initial ruling in May by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kathy Surratt-States that Peabody was not obligated to continue the health benefits for retirees was overturned in August by an 8th U.S. District Court of Appeals bankruptcy panel.

Thursday, Peabody announced that it will pay hundreds of millions of dollars over four years to settle the legal dispute and fund retiree benefits.

It also will provide about $140 million in letters of credit to Patriot, bolstering that company’s hopes of emerging from bankruptcy.

Peabody is the world’s largest private-sector coal company. It certainly must have had the money to make an agreement such as this months ago. As heartening as it is that the company has finally stepped up to the plate, it is just as disheartening that it took this long — plus the millions spent in litigation — to take that responsibility.

In this settlement, the UMWA must surrender nearly all of its 35 percent stake in Patriot that resulted from Surratt-States’ May ruling. However, UMWA President Cecil Roberts says he is pleased by the settlement and that the union will end its protests.

It is sad when a business — or a government — breaks its covenant with the people who give their blood, sweat and hard work.

It is good that Peabody officials finally swallowed their pride and did what should have been done from the beginning.

If only the stubborn, self-serving members of Congress — as well as President Obama — would do the same and get our government workers back on the job and stop the nonsense of defaulting on the country’s debt.