An Indiana coal company has received a $10 million federal loan. It’s meant to help small businesses keep their workers employed during the COVID-19 crisis. Environmentalists say that money should have gone elsewhere.
Some have questioned if Hallador Energy should qualify as a small business. Its main subsidiary, Sunrise Coal, calls itself the second-largest coal producer in the state, with about 760 employees. It used to have more than 900 workers, but suffered two rounds of layoffs this year — including the 60 workers who were laid off due to the closure of the Carlisle mine.
Wendy Bredhold is with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Indiana. She says that money could have gone to other struggling businesses or to those more susceptible to the disease, like health care workers and people of color, who are more likely to die from COVID-19.
“We should be responding to recreate the economy in a way that protects vulnerable people and protects the climate rather than doing kind of the opposite,” Bredhold says.
People who live in polluted areas — such as near coal plants — are more likely to have health conditions that put them at greater risk from COVID-19.
Another one of the company’s subsidiaries, Rail Point Solutions, hired former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt as a coal lobbyist in Indiana. Bredhold says Hallador Energy likely received the loan due to its political connections.
Bredhold says lawmakers should focus on helping coal miners transition to other jobs rather than propping up a declining industry. Other states have set up programs that pay counties who have lost tax revenue when coal plants close and provide financial assistance to former miners as they look for new jobs.
Bredhold says those iniatives are much more robust than the law that the Indiana legislature passed this year, which gives coal workers priority in existing workforce training grants.
Hallador Energy declined to comment.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.