Arch Coal funded US ‘libertarian’ think tank and ALEC

Bob Burton

Arch Coal, the second largest coal company in the US, has revealed that it has been a secret funder of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a self-proclaimed “libertarian” think tank which has been a part of the global echo chamber of groups opposing action on climate change.

The filing also reveals the coal company was a behind-the-scenes funder of the American Legislative Exchange Commission (ALEC), a US-based group which drafts corporate-sponsored legislation and brokers its introduction via a network of conservative legislators.

Arch Coal’s recent 579-page filing (large pdf) with the US Bankruptcy Court listed the Ludwig von Mises Institute as one of the company’s creditors which are owed money. However, no details are provided on how much Arch Coal has paid the libertarian think tank or when any payments were made.

On its website, the Alabama-headquartered institute states it champions a “free-market capitalist economy and a private-property order that rejects taxation, monetary debasement, and a coercive state monopoly of protective services.” The institute obliquely notes on its website it receives funding from businesses but provides no details on who they are.

In 2014 the Ludwig von Mises Institute’s annual return to the US Internal Revenue Service revealed it had total revenue of US$3.8 million. While the institute has been a part of the US conservative echo chamber railing against regulations to tackle climate change, it has at best been a bit-part player.

Arch Coal operates 11 mines across seven states of the US. On January 11 Arch Coal filed for ‘Chapter 11’ bankruptcy protection in the US which allows the company to restructure its debt while continuing to trade. Arch Coal estimates that in 2015 it produced 118 million tonnes of coal for both the US and export markets.

Nick Surgey noted in PR Watch that another of the coal company’s creditors is the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal), “a group best known for filing lawsuits seeking climate scientists’ personal emails.”

The company’s bankruptcy filing also lists ALEC (p. 17) as one it its creditors. ALEC has controversially carved out a niche in the US as a production house for corporate-sponsored ‘model legislation’ which the group brokers with a network of supportive politicians from a range of US legislatures. An estimated 108 companies have cut their ties with ALEC as controversy has raged over its role in promoting legislation sought by sponsoring companies.

Coal industry lobby groups around the world are also among the potential financial losers from the collapse of Arch Coal.

The international coal industry’s lobby group, the London-headquartered World Coal Association, is amongst the company’s creditors. Another is the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute (GCCSI) based in Australia, which promotes carbon capture and storage as a ‘solution’ to greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

A collection of US national and state coal lobby groups are also listed as creditors. National coal lobby group creditors include the Washington DC-headquartered National Mining Association, the National Coal Council and the American Coal Council. State-based coal industry lobby groups on the creditors list include the Illinois Coal Association, the Kentucky Coal Association, the Montana Coal Council, the West Virginia Coal Alliance, the Western Virginia Coal Association and the Western Fuels Association in Colorado.

Some of the top 30 largest creditors are other major coal industry service and equipment suppliers. There are railroad operators, BSNF Railways and Union Pacific Railroad Company, as well as Kinder Morgan Terminals, which operates coal terminals. Other top 30 creditors include mining equipment suppliers Cecil I. Walker Machinery Co, a dealer of Caterpillar equipment, earthmoving equipment supplier Komatsu Equipment and Joy Global, which supplies equipment for underground coal mining.

A hearing for Arch Coal creditors is scheduled to be held in Missouri on March 10.

Minor creditors – such as lobby groups like the World Coal Association and groups like the Ludwig von Mises Institute – are likely to be very low in the financial pecking order and unlikely to be considered sufficiently important to warrant continued support.

Bob Burton is the Hobart-based Editor of CoalWire, a weekly bulletin on global coal industry developments. (You can sign up for it here.) Bob Burton’s Twitter feed is here.