Texas Observer Fails Reporting 101 with Self-Bonding Stories


ELuminant_logo_sm300x189very college-level basic reporting course teaches this fundamental of journalism: get both sides of the story. But the Texas Observer gets an F for blatantly ignoring that standard in recent stories on mine reclamation self-bonding in Texas.

Luminant, the largest coal mining company in Texas, is prominently mentioned in the lead story and even attacked by a longtime environmental activist, who, as usual, is wrong. But did the Texas Observer bother to contact us for our side of the story?

No.

And that’s beyond sloppy journalism. It’s unfair and irresponsible.

In the opening paragraphs, Texas Observer reporter Naveena Sadasivam, mistakenly describes the process Luminant followed to transition from bonds backed by the company’s demonstrated financial condition, or self-bonding, to a collateral bond to secure reclamation costs upon entering bankruptcy as required by the Railroad Commission of Texas. She wrongly implies it was impulsive and chaotic. It wasn’t.

If she contacted us, Sadasivam could have avoided these errors:

  • Energy Future Holdings and Luminant didn’t file for bankruptcy in “mid-2014.” It was in April, 2014.
  • Regulators didn’t “suddenly” have a problem. Months prior to the filing, we consulted the RCT regarding an approach for replacing our self-bonding in the event of a bankruptcy and RCT explained to Luminant what was expected under the rules for an orderly process.
  • There was no “strong-arming.” Well before filing, Luminant understood the regulatory requirements regarding bonding during a restructuring process and was committed to full compliance with those regulations. In consultation with the RCT, the company methodically arranged for a collateral bond secured by $1.1 billion in debtor in possession financing the bankruptcy court approved three days after filing. The RCT then unanimously approved.

Since before we filed for bankruptcy, Public Citizen’s Tom Smith has made misleading claims Luminant might not meet its reclamation obligations. He was wrong then and he’s wrong now suggesting we weren’t committed and able to cover them.

The facts, oblivious to the Texas Observer, back up that commitment. For more than 40 years, Luminant has set the standard in mined land reclamation, restoring nearly 80,000 acres, planting over 38 million trees and creating or enhancing more than 5,100 acres of wetlands, ponds and stream channels. In 2015, Luminant reclaimed more than 2,300 acres and planted over 1 million trees. More than 1,500 acres were reclaimed in 2014 and 1.5 million trees planted.

As an enthusiastic media partner of the environmental activists’ agenda to end coal generation, which the state relies on, and throw thousands of Texans out of their jobs, the Texas Observer has buried the solid fundamentals of good journalism. So these words, literally buried in its website, now ring hollow, “Our reporting is fair, accurate, and, as our mission states, it hews hard to the truth as we find it.”

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