Original Article Published on Fortune.com
A squad of about ten Peabody Energy btu miners clad in steel-toed boots and hard hats climbed into massive bulldozers on a recent morning, ready to create rolling hills of grass over former pits at the Rawhide coal mine in Wyoming.
In the midst of a deep coal downturn and widespread layoffs, the staff that remains at Rawhide is spending more time in 2016 on landscaping than mining.
“We’re probably going to do four times the amount this year than we would normally do,” said Mary DeRudder, a 30-year veteran coal miner at Rawhide, which saw its workforce cut by more than half to 95 since jobs peaked at 225 in 2012.
Improving the environment with acres of prairie is a plus, but placing greater resources toward reclaiming stripped land is part of an effort by Peabody — the largest U.S. coal miner — to reduce its $1.2 billion liability for future environmental cleanup costs.
The quicker Peabody can recreate native grass and sagebrush, the sooner it can cut costs, free up cash and make its mines more attractive to potential buyers. It can also help Peabody meet a target of emerging from bankruptcy by next April.
“We’re doing everything we can to reduce our liability to a minimum,” said Phil Dinsmoor, Peabody director of environmental services in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, where Rawhide sits.