Peabody Energy is getting protests from all sides.
More than 50 people gathered outside the corporation’s annual meeting Thursday in Clayton, including Washington University students, St. Louis activists, rural southern Illinoisans and American Indians from Black Mesa, Ariz.
Ten protesters were arrested outside the Ritz-Carlton, where the meeting was held.
The complaints they expressed were as different as their backgrounds, but the group is unified in its opposition to coal.
Judy Kellen and her husband live on a farm outside Rocky Branch, Ill. The 74-year-old said the noise and pollution from Peabody’s proposed strip mine will push several elderly couples out of the area. Kellen recently bought stock in the company, so that she could attend the meeting and address Peabody’s CEO Greg Boyce.
"I wanted to tell Mr. Boyce that there’s got to be a better way to do this than running so many people out of our homes," she said.
Kellen said she didn’t get the opportunity. She and a handful of other shareholders who intended to voice concerns were escorted to a separate room. Organizers said two of the shareholders were arrested when they tried to get into the main shareholder’s gathering.
But Peabody spokesman Vic Svec said they could have asked their questions from the overflow room.
"It allows for full participation of the meeting, people are allowed to ask questions, to have a discussion, and to hear all proceedings and to participate fully," he said. "But [the overflow room] is to allow for an orderly meeting."
Several Washington University students also took part in Thursday’s protest. Julie Ho was involved in a 17-day sit-in demanding the school break ties with the corporation. That effort culminated in the arrest of seven students who attempted to get into a university board of trustees’ meeting to ask Peabody’s CEO to resign from the board.
"We’re here to come together as a united front against Peabody," Ho said. "So we’re here for all the same reasons that we were at Wash U, but we think this fight is very intimately connected to what we’re doing."
Ho is also active in Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE), which has been instrumental in the "Take Back St. Louis" campaign. That effort gathered more than 36,000 signatures for a ballot initiative to ask citizens to ban corporations who produce “unsustainable energy” from getting tax incentives from the city of St. Louis.
A lawsuit prevented the measure from getting on last month’s ballot. Peabody’s Svec said “scores” of businesses oppose the initiative, while the city of St. Louis is seeking a state law to prevent the measure or similar initiatives.
"This isn’t about Peabody," Svec said. "It’s about keeping the city in the 21st century."
Zach Chasnoff, with MORE, told protestors Thursday that those efforts are subverting democracy.
"Your government does not answer to the people. Unless you count corporations as people," Chasnoff said through a bullhorn to a chorus of boos.
At least two opponents traveled from Black Mesa, Ariz., to try to attend the shareholders meeting. Marshall Johnson called himself an “original shareholder” who works with the organization “To Nizhoni Ani” in opposition of Peabody’s coal mining in the area. He said 40 years of coal mining and climate change resulting from pollution have depleted the Navajo Aquifer.
"They are in discussion on how to improve their profits, while they are jeopardizing our way of life," Johnson said, pointing to the Ritz where the meeting was being held. "That’s how we are shareholders; the original shareholders."
Peabody reached an agreement with the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe in the 1960s. Svec said a minority opposed to mining in the area should instead bring their concerns to the tribes.
As for being attacked from several organizations at once, Svec said it’s part of being a big company.
"What you don’t hear from are the vast majority who wake up every day and want to have low cost electricity and want the air to become a little cleaner," he said. "And that’s the business that we’re about and it was that business that we were engaged in today despite the fact that attention seems to flow to those who were conducting unlawful activities."
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