Peabody Energy Threatens with Lawsuit Over Justin Bieber Inhaler Hoax

by Jess Leber · May 13, 2011

Editor's Note: On Tuesday, I wrote a blog post about a hoax petition posted by Coal Kills Kids as part of a stunt they pulled on Peabody Energy in partnership with The Yes Men. Below is a press release that is sending out today, after receiving a threat of a lawsuit to remove the petition.

The Yes Men have also posted their own awesome response here to the legal threats they too have received from Peabody Energy.

The press release is below:

The world's largest private-sector coal company has threatened, the world’s fastest-growing platform for social change, with a lawsuit unless it removes a petition posted by Coal Kills Kids, the activist group that made a splash earlier this week by spoofing coal industry PR tactics in partnership with The Yes Men.

Peabody Energy's lawyers sent a notice to on Thursday, notifying of an intent to sue if the hoax petition was not removed in 24 hours. After consulting its own lawyers, has removed the petition. Rather than spend valuable time fighting a lawsuit from a $7 billion coal company over a hoax petition, has instead decided to highlight the absurdity of this request.

Shortly after unveiling its fake Peabody Energy "Coal Cares" website, Coal Kills Kids launched a petition on, entitled "Stop Peabody Coal's Outrageous Coal Cares campaign," in mock outrage over the initiative. Because millions of people visit every month to take action on social justice issues, the petition was an additional plausible layer to the elaborate hoax. It attracted fewer than 150 signatures over the course of about two days.

The hoax promoted a fake Peabody Energy initiative to "make asthma cool" by providing free inhalers, with themes including Justin Bieber and My Little Pony, to kids living near coal-fired power plants. The intent, of course, was to call attention to the coal industry's extensive expenditures to fight clean air regulations, despite full knowledge that, every year, hazardous air pollution from coal power plants is estimated to kill thousands of people and results in more than $100 billion in health care costs for the United States.

" wishes this legal threat were a hoax. Unfortunately, the lawyers seem as serious as an asthma attack," said Ben Rattray, founder of “While the ‘Coal Cares’ campaign that the petition is protesting is not real, the health statistics presented in the petition are shockingly true. Though unconventional, the Coal Cares stunt was effective in calling attention to the harmful effects of the coal industry. We have removed the hoax petition to satisfy Peabody's lawyers. We are, however, honored that the pranksters thought of the platform as a valuable tool to further their cause.”

To see how the coal industry actually does target kids, look at this very real petition launched on this week:

Below are the health statistics that Coal Kills Kids presented in the text:

*Asthma is the #1 reason that kids miss school due to illness in this country. (Asthma Allergy Foundation of America)

* Coal pollution causes over $100 billion in health care costs each year. Low-income families are struggling to pay health care bills for their kids while polluters should be paying for the mess they create. (Clean Air Task Force Report Sept. 2010)

* Coal plants are one of the biggest sources of air pollution in this country, and millions of Americans live in places where it literally isn’t safe to breathe.

* The EPA has a plan to update the Clean Air Act with new health standards, and the coal industry has been pushing back, lobbying EPA to delay while kids are suffering. (Clean Air Task Force Report Sept. 2010)

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Jess Leber is a editor. She most recently covered climate and energy issues as a reporter in Washington, D.C
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