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Hearing Begins Patriot's Bid To Cut Benefits

Peabody argued that on Patriot's watch, "a series of other unforeseen events affecting all coal producers followed," including an unprecedented global financial crisis, development of low-cost shale gas that cut demand for coal, burdensome federal regulation, and a sharp drop-off in the price of Patriot's chief product â¿¿ coal used in the manufacture of steel.

Patriot last month sued Peabody, saying it wants to ensure that Peabody doesn't try to use the bankruptcy to avoid Peabody's own health care obligations to some 3,100 retirees whose future benefits would not be included in the package Patriot recently proposed to the union.

That was the first order of business at Monday's hearing, with an attorney for Patriot accusing Peabody of pursuing "a free ride on Patriot's bankruptcy to escape its obligations," and saying "Peabody's motive is pure, unadulterated greed." ''Peabody has the nerve to come in here and say these are not their liabilities," Jonathan Martin added.

Jack Newman, an attorney for Peabody, fired back, bristling at the use of such pejoratives as "greedy" and Martin's questioning of the company's corporate citizenship. Asking the judge to throw out the matter, Newman called the lawsuit premature and said it wasn't filed in the proper jurisdiction.

Surratt-States did not rule on the matter.

Monday's proceedings drew an overflow crowd, including nearly two dozen Peabody retirees from Kentucky who wore T-shirts that said "Peabody promised ..." on the front and "Peabody lied!" on the back.

Among them was Donald Morris, a Greenville, Ky., resident who retired from Peabody after working for 18 years in one of its mines near Beaver Dam, Ky. The 66-year-old's speech is strained due to partial facial paralysis related to a brain tumor that was removed a decade ago, and he's had to undergo several other costly procedures, including hernia and prostate surgeries. Morris said he worries that if he loses his health coverage, he doesn't think he'd be able to find affordable coverage.

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