WASHINGTON (Reuters) — U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Monday took aim at another coal company, saying Peabody Energy Corp is trying to "shirk its responsibilities" to pay the health-care benefits of retired mine workers.
Clinton earlier this month said the restructuring plan suggested by Patriot Coal Corp, which is in the midst of its second bankruptcy in three years, should be stopped because it involved dramatically scaling back the money that would go to paying retiree benefits.
Clinton, the front runner for the Democratic nomination, has shown in recent weeks she will not hesitate to go after companies by name. In addition to her remarks on Patriot and Peabody, Clinton has criticized pharmaceutical companies for "price gouging" and health insurance companies for proposed mergers that she said could be bad for consumers, sending industry stocks tumbling.
Following Clinton's remarks, Patriot withdrew its original plan and submitted a new one that won court approval.
Peabody, the world's largest private-sector coal producer, spun off Patriot into a separate entity in 2007. During Patriot's first bankruptcy in 2012, Peabody had agreed to cover the benefits of retirees. But last month, in a court filing in St. Louis, where it is headquartered, Peabody argued it does not have to make the benefits payments under the terms of Patriot's newly approved bankruptcy plan.
"These are people who put their own health and safety at risk for years so the rest of us could have the affordable, reliable electricity we take for granted," Clinton said in a statement commenting on the roughly 11,000 retirees who would be affected.
"They are entitled to the benefits they've earned, and which Peabody just two years ago committed to pay. I hope Peabody does the right thing," Clinton added.
Peabody could not be immediately reached for comment.
Under Patriot's 2012 bankruptcy, Peabody had agreed to pay US$310 million to cover the benefits of retirees, of which US$145 million is outstanding.
Patriot, based in Scott Depot, West Virginia, has now teamed up with the United Mine Workersof America union to demand that Peabody pay Patriot the US$145 million.
Clinton has promised that if elected president in November 2016 she would not leave workers in coal-producing areas behind as the country transitions to renewable sources of energy.