Coal Firm to Pay Obama Mentor $435,000 to Fight Climate Plan

  • Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe represents Peabody Energy
  • Payments span May through December 2016, according to filing

Peabody Energy Corp. is set to pay President Barack Obama’s Harvard Law School mentor $435,000 this year to help the bankrupt coal producer challenge the administration’s signature environmental law.

The payments to Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law expert and legal icon -- spanning May to December this year -- were disclosed in a legal filing tied to Peabody’s bankruptcy proceedings. They do not include any money Peabody sent Tribe before its April bankruptcy filing as part of the company’s crusade against Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which is designed to slash carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The program encourages states and utilities to burn less coal and use generate more electricity from cleaner sources such as wind, solar power and natural gas.

Tribe is set to receive monthly payments ranging from $17,500 in May to $75,000 in September, when the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington hears arguments in the Clean Power Plan case. The litigation ultimately is expected to be resolved by the Supreme Court, which includes two of Tribe’s former students, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan.

Tribe’s work for Peabody has drawn a backlash from liberals who had regarded him as their top legal crusader. Tribe represented Al Gore before the Supreme Court in 2000 in the case that decided the presidential election and served in Obama’s Justice Department, defending the Affordable Care Act and other administration initiatives. But now, Tribe’s words are more frequently cited by Republican lawmakers lambasting Obama’s environmental agenda than liberal stalwarts defending the president’s policies.

Technology Approach

Tribe did not respond immediately to an e-mailed request for comment but previously said he’s “not for sale” and “represents cases that I believe in.”

Peabody said in an e-mailed statement that it’s continuing “to urge a technology approach to lower greenhouse gas emissions.” 

“At the same time, we continue to work with other parties to contest the legality of onerous rules that would raise U.S. power costs and damage reliability of the electric grid with no significant benefit,” the company said.

Environmental activists have criticized Peabody’s continued legal fight against the Clean Power Plan, even as some public officials question whether bankrupt coal producers will be able to clean up old mines.

Sierra Club

Peabody plans to continue funding legal attacks against the Clean Power Plan while it navigates bankruptcy, even as there are growing doubts that the company will honor its obligations to communities and environmental reclamation at its mines, Joe Smyth, a researcher with the Climate Investigations Center, said by e-mail.

“It’s a telling reflection of the company’s priorities,” he said.

Sierra Club’s director of federal and international climate campaigns, John Coequyt, has criticized Tribe’s involvement in the case. “He can cloak it in all the academic legalese he wants, but the fact remains: Larry Tribe is no more than a hired gun for Big Coal -- willing to make whatever ‘absurd’ legal arguments they want so long as his check clears,” Coequyt wrote in a blog post.

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