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PNC Bank Will Cease Investments in Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Energy
PNC Bank Will Cease Investments in Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Bowing to pressure from Quaker environmentalists, PNC Bank announced yesterday that it will be restricting financing of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. The shift outlined in its 2015 Corporate Responsibility Report means PNC Bank will effectively cease its investment in this controversial practice.

Members of Earth Quaker Action Team protested outside a PNC Bank in 2012 to pressure the bank to end all financing to mountaintop removal coal mining companies. Photo credit: Earth Quaker Action Team

In 2012, PNC Bank financed Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal, CONSOL Energy and Patriot Coal, which together were responsible for nearly half (44.97 percent) of Appalachian mountaintop removal production. PNC’s total investment was $687.5 million for that year.

The grassroots group leading the charge for PNC’s new policy, Earth Quaker Action Team, hails the change as a major shift by the seventh largest U.S. bank. “When we initiated our campaign in 2010, PNC attempted to placate us with a hollow policy. It’s good to see that PNC Bank is now taking meaningful steps,” says Matthew Armstead, staff coordinator for EQAT. “Since this shift happened because of external pressure, it should be a wake-up call for everyone that the power of change lies with regular citizen activists.”

According to EQAT’s analysis, PNC’s changes in investment will sever ties with the two largest companies (Alpha and Arch). Given Patriot Coal’s bankruptcy and CONSOL Energy’s imminent shifting out of mountaintop removal, PNC Bank will be left without any major investments in mountaintop removal.

Mountaintop removal has long been criticized for its negative environmental and health impacts. This process of getting coal from a mountain involves blowing up the top of the mountain and dumping the remains into rivers and valleys. The contaminants from the dynamite hang in the air and the sludge and residue from this process poisons water. Scientists note the impact of burning dirty coal is speeding up global climate change.

Released yesterday, PNC’s 2015 Corporate Responsibility Report began their new policy by admitting they were “driven by environmental and health concerns.”

Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a watchdog expert on the energy sector, issued a statement:

“We see today’s news as indicative of a broader trend within the financial sector. Banks no longer want to be associated with a dangerous, abhorrent practice like mountaintop removal; there is an emerging financial industry consensus that these practices are unacceptable. Concretely, this means mountaintop removal companies will have a harder time securing financing to operate and expand in the future.”

PNC follows in the footsteps of other banks pressured to adopt policies cutting ties with firms specializing in mountaintop removal: JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, RBS, BNP Paribas and UBS.

Dustin White, an 11th-generation native Appalachian with Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, lauded the tiny Quaker environmentalist organization for making this change. He said, “PNC's new policy is a step in the right direction, and we applaud our friends at EQAT for their success in moving this big bank to do the right thing. For over 150 years, Big Coal has endangered our health, our heritage, and our homes.”

For members of Earth Quaker Action Team this is a major victory from a long campaign. “In our early encounters with PNC, they didn’t take us or this issue seriously. We showed them evidence, delivered them Appalachian water poisoned by mountaintop removal, and brought them face-to-face with residents hurt by this practice,” says George Lakey, a retired teacher who was arrested twice during the campaign. “We had to take direct action for them to see the light.”

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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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