A bankrupt coal producer has a judge's go-ahead to significantly cut health care and pension benefits to thousands of workers and retirees in hopes of regaining its financial footing. 

On Wednesday a judge approved Patriot Coal's request to impose wage and benefit cuts by throwing out its collective bargaining agreements with the United Mine Workers of America. 

The Peabody Energy Corporation spinoff has said it would have to spend $1.6 billion to cover the health care costs, putting it at risk of liquidation. 

The UMWA did not return a message seeking comment.