Last week, Bank of America (BofA) admitted a huge accounting error—for several years, it claimed a whopping $4 billion more in capital than it actually has. The day BofA announced its blunder, its shares closed down more than six percent, the stock’s biggest drop in two years.
But BofA had to come clean. Regulators, shareholders and consumers need an accurate picture of banks' balance sheets.
BofA’s admission gives us a rare chance to raise a far bigger question: What else are they hiding?
It's time for BofA to be transparent about something much more vital to the future of the planet: just how much its investments contribute to climate change.
I'm writing to you from BofA's Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I'm about to speak in support of a crucial shareholder resolution. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility—backed by investors worth almost $35 billion—is pushing the bank to report on how much carbon pollution gets spewed into the atmosphere by the companies it funds.
BofA is a top funder of the biggest drivers of climate change: coal, oil, and gas corporations, as well as carbon–intensive electricity producers. But it's refusing to report on its financed carbon emissions. BofA knows that opening its books will create pressure to cut emissions by moving away from fossil fuels.
Now is the time to push BofA on climate change. Last week's accounting revelations were a big black eye, and at today's AGM, the bank needs to reassure its shareholders and customers that it doesn't have billions of dollars of climate liabilities on its books.
Pushing for transparency is just the first step. We're also calling on BofA to cut its carbon pollution by stopping funding coal, the top contributor to climate change. I'll be making that call here at the AGM in just a few minutes, and ally organizations will speak to coal's cost beyond climate: mountains with their tops blown off in West Virginia, rivers wrecked by coal ash here in North Carolina, and human rights abuses by coal company security forces in Colombia.
Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson dismissed the shareholder pressure in an email, saying the company would fight the "fraudulent" award, not settle it. In 2009, a different company spokesman, Donald Campbell, outlined the oil giant's legal strategy: "We're going to fight this until hell freezes over. And then we'll fight it out on the ice." Trillium's lawyer Sanford Lewis told Courthouse News that this sort of talk makes shareholders uneasy. "Do they want to go to hell with Chevron?" Lewis asked.It would seem that Chevron shareholders most certainly do not want to go to hell with the company. New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli serves as trustee for the $140 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, which also signed the letter calling on Chevron to settle with the Ecuadoreans, and he has said: “It’s time for Chevron to face reality. The effects of this horrific, uncontrolled pollution of the Amazon rainforest are still being felt today. Investors don’t derive any benefit from this never-ending courtroom drama.” Chevron has been anything but forthcoming with its shareholders about the liability it is facing in Ecuador, where the company has been found guilty of massively polluting the Amazon and ordered to pay $18 billion to clean up its mess. The lack of full disclosure has prompted Trillium to file a request with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission asking for an investigation into whether Chevron has “appropriately disclosed to its shareholders the scope and magnitude of financial and operational risk” from the guilty verdict in Ecuador. Thirty-thousand Ecuadoreans are demanding justice in the Amazon. Americans are standing with them. Even Chevron’s shareholders want the company to do the right thing and clean up the Ecuadorean Amazon. It must be getting increasingly lonely at the top of Chevron.
To the citizens of the United States, We are the mothers of families. We are fathers who work very hard every day. We are grandparents who hold on to many memories. We imagine that you are the same as us, With hearts that beat, With eyes that appreciate the beauty of the world around us, With feet that walk on the same planet as ours. We would like to share with you a story that you all should know. It occurred in a place called the Ecuadorean Amazon almost 50 years ago. We had clean water, a healthy source of food, medicinal plants to cure our ailments. In other words, we lived with dignity and in harmony with nature. But in that moment an oil company arrived whose name we remember well: Texaco. We were not familiar with oil. They told us that oil was good, that it would bring progress for the future. We remember the oil spills, almost daily. The crude oil would come down the rivers like black sheets. We remember the toxic waters they dumped in our rivers. We remember the pain our children felt after bathing in the rivers contaminated with oil. We remember the illnesses, the deformations, the cancer. We remember those who died. We do not know you. We only know the company Texaco, now called Chevron. We are a people of great courage and humility who have been in a struggle for many years to demand justice, asking that the company take responsibility for all the harm they have caused. Last February, Chevron was found guilty by an Ecuadorean court for the harm they caused to our people, and to our lands. But the company has said it will never respect the court’s decision, that it will never take responsibility for the damages, and that it will keep fighting until Hell freezes over. We want to reach your hearts, so that you know the truth. Chevron has poisoned us. It has also poisoned the image of the United States and of its citizens. On behalf of the thousands of victims in Ecuador, we write this letter to you, so that you can do something, now, and demand that Chevron clean up the poison that they left in our Amazon, and clean up the image of you and your country. Thank you.