Last week, Rainforest Action Network and three allies testified at Bank of America's annual shareholder meeting, urging them to drop coal, to stop profiting from environmental destruction and human rights abuses. In the next two weeks, we'll be posting the statements of our three allies. Add your voice by telling Bank of America to stop funding coal -- and come clean on climate change.
My name is Elise Keaton. I am the Executive Director of the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation and I am from southern West Virginia. I currently live in Charleston, West Virginia. I am here today to ask you to please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and my community.
On January 9 of this year, I came home from work, poured a big glass of water from my tap and drank it. As soon as I set my glass down I received a text message from my landlord stating, “Don’t drink the water! There has been a chemical leak!”
Over the next hours, I experienced acute symptoms from exposure to the coal-processing chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM), including irritated eyes, nose and throat, nausea, and stomach cramps. If the spill had been immediately lethal, I thought, the authorities would have sounded the chemical valley alarms. So I monitored my symptoms and concluded that I did not need to go to the emergency room that night. I figured that the next day, we would know more about what had happened.
What we learned over the next week was that a Freedom Industries facility storing coal-processing chemicals leaked MCHM into the Elk River, contaminating the drinking water for 300,000 households. The first question a thinking human being should ask is, “Why are 300,000 households, spread across nine counties in a rural state like West Virginia on a single water source in the city of Charleston?”
The answer is: their local water sources have already been compromised by the mining industry. Their streams and springs have been destroyed or buried by mountaintop removal. Their wells have been compromised by blasting or polluted by coal slurry injections.
And instead of addressing the sources of this pollution, the political-industrial establishment in West Virginia decided that your quarterly profits were more important than clean water for our communities and they answered that loss of water by extending the municipal water source further and further out into those counties.
Four months later, we still lack access to guaranteed safe drinking water in West Virginia. Our esteemed congresspeople have insisted that they are drinking the water. But no public health official has declared the water safe to drink.
I am 34 years old and I am getting married this summer. I've waited a long time to start my family. Now, I have postponed my plans to have children indefinitely because no one can tell me the impact MCHM may have had on me and my reproductive ability.
I am here today to ask you to please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and my community. The minuscule profits you received as a result of mountaintop removal mining are incomparable to the catastrophic damage caused by the practice. It is killing us.
More than 20 peer-reviewed health studies have shown that living near mountaintop removal sites is deadly for the people of Appalachia. Please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and my community.
I will close with this: when you remove coal by blowing up a mountain to extract it you have destroyed a “water maker” for the equivalent of one hour’s worth of electricity for the United States. Let me repeat that. When you extract coal by mountaintop removal you kill a resource that will make water forever -- for the equivalent of one hour’s worth of energy for the U.S. How is that a good investment?
As shareholders of one of the largest financial institutions in the world, you are savvy investors and business minded individuals. How is destroying the mountains that create clean water for a very small, short term financial benefit a good investment? Please stop financing the destruction of our mountains, our water and our communities. Your profits from mountaintop removal mean death for us.
Stand with Elise and RAN by telling Bank of America to stop funding coal -- and come clean on climate change.
Tomorrow, I’m visiting Barclays and I need you to back me up.
In 2013 Barclays gave $550 million in financial support, more than any other bank, to companies destroying my home of central Appalachia with mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR).
That's why I've traveled all the way to England to speak at Barclays' annual shareholder meeting. I want to ensure that the bank's leaders and shareholders know about the true scale of destruction caused by MTR.
MTR is destroying everything I love. More than just leveling mountains, it will pollute our water for countless generations. The health of all those around me is already suffering. Cancer, birth defects, lung disease, heart disease, and dramatically shortened life expectancies have sadly become normal in the communities where MTR is practiced.
The coal industry could not do its dirty work without the help of banks like Barclays. We need to make sure the bank and its shareholders hear that no corporation and no individual has the ethical right to profit from the destruction and sickness caused by MTR.
When people like us hold banks responsible for financing destruction, we can make a difference. We've already persuaded JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and BNP Paribas to move away from MTR financing.
Barclays bank's executive team will be under tough scrutiny at their shareholder meeting. If we act in unison today, we can ensure that the message I'm going to deliver to the meeting packs a powerful punch—and demands responsible and ethical action from the bank.
Paul Corbit Brown is president of Keeper of the Mountains, a West Virginia-based foundation that aims to educate and inspire people to work for healthier, more sustainable mountain communities and an end to mountaintop removal. He is a photographer who has worked in more than a dozen countries and exhibited throughout the United States.
For the first time since we began publishing coal finance report cards five years ago, we have an encouraging trend to report: Major banks have begun making noise about the growing financial risk associated with climate change—and specifically associated with coal, the top global contributor to carbon pollution.
On top of that, major banks have begun to cut ties with the biggest mountaintop removal (MTR) coal companies. This progress has exposed a growing gap between banks that are still sinking billions into coal, and those that are cutting ties with the worst-of-the-worst in the coal industry.
Today, RAN, the Sierra Club, and BankTrack released our 2014 Coal Finance Report Card, “Extreme Investments, Extreme Consequences,” which grades U.S. banks on their performance and policies related to coal-fired power and mountaintop removal coal mining. We also uncovered the top financiers of contentious coal export schemes like those in the Pacific Northwest and coal trains that transport dusty coal across the United States.
All told, banks sank over $31 billion into the worst companies in the coal industry last year, with $6.5 billion coming from Citigroup, the top funder of coal-fired power. However, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo began to phase out financing for MTR, earning our first ever “B” grades, and marking a positive trend away from the extreme mining practice.
Meanwhile, UK-based Barclays increased its exposure to MTR, financing $550 million for mountaintop removal coal companies last year, more than any other bank.
Environmental damage from mining, transporting, and burning coal—including health hazards like air pollution and water contamination from spills—doesn’t just harm communities and the environment, it costs banks money. In the report card, we highlight examples of this in case studies about the rising cost of clean-up for water contamination at mine sites, increases in coal company bankruptcies, and money-losing coal-fired power plants.
The report comes on the heels of analyst publications from Goldman Sachs, HSBC and Citigroup last year, each of which challenged the case for continued investment in the coal industry. These and other banks have acknowledged that power plant regulations, a potential price on carbon, and competition from renewable energy sources could “strand” assets such as coal mining, transport, and power generation facilities. With billions of dollars in loans on the line, it’s not a question of if climate risk will translate into financial risk, but when.
Ironically, these very same banks maintain deep financial ties to the riskiest and most environmentally destructive companies in the U.S. coal industry. As credit ratings for some coal mining companies sank farther below investment grade last year, banks continued to place bets on risky loans to the sector.
The report card warns banks that before the carbon bubble bursts onto their balance sheets, it will irreversibly destabilize the climate. So while we are happy to report that a few banks took the first steps to cut off financing to the worst-of-the-worst of the coal industry, the banking industry as a whole must now cut its losses and forge a path away from coal, before it’s too late for both them and us.
Since last Thursday's toxic spill, when a coal-processing chemical spilled into West Virginia's Elk River, roughly 300,000 people have lost access to tap water. Our friends at groups like OVEC, Keepers of the Mountain, Coal River Mountain Watch and Aurora Lights are volunteering and working long days to drive clean water supplies to desparate and remote communities throughout the nine affected counties in West Virginia. A few dollars goes a long way to help. Click any of those links to donate. I just donated and want to urge you to consider making a donation to water relief efforts too. Yet again Appalachian communities are being disenfranchised. This industrial disaster is not getting much play in the national media, despite being just a few hours from the nation's capital. Meanwhile, West Virginia's Governor keeps insisting that this disaster has nothing to do with the coal industry. To be clear, the chemical that spilled (4-methylcyclohexane methanol) is a chemical that is produced for use producing coal (the "cheapest" form of energy in this country) and the reason that a relatively small spill was able to impact so many people's drinking water (16% of the state) is that decades of contamination from coal mining and processing means that many rural communities can no longer rely on well water, and instead have to connect the municipal water systems. Then the privatization of public infrastructure means that the business has been aggressively consolidated into even larger distribution networks. Combine all that with the regulatory joke that is West Virginia's "Department of Environmental Protection" (the site's last inspection was in 1991), and you have a disaster on your hands. Ken Ward (IMO the smartest journalist covering these issues) wrote this morning:
Plenty of West Virginia communities have watched their drinking water supplies be either polluted or dried up because of coal (see here, here and here). Me and my neighbors are getting a taste right now of what some coalfield residents live with all the time.
If you want to help spread awareness of this tragedy and the urgent need for support of the affected West Virginians, please share this post on Facebook.
Patriot Coal has concluded that the continuation or expansion of surface mining, particularly large-scale surface mining of the type common in central Appalachia, is not in its long-term interests. Today’s proposed settlement commits Patriot Coal to phase out and permanently exit large scale surface mining and transition our business primarily toward underground mining and related small scale surface mining. Patriot Coal recognizes that our mining operations impact the communities in which we operate in significant ways, and we are committed to maximizing the benefits of this agreement for our stakeholders, including our employees and neighbors. We believe the proposed settlement will result in a reduction of our environmental footprint.While this may sound like a change of heart, it is worth noting that Patriot was facing some tough economic challenges. The company had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June and was being sued by environmental and citizens’ groups in West Virginia federal court to stop polluting water with selenium, a metal released by large-scale strip mining, and clean up the pollution. Whatever their motivation, this news is a win for the mountains and communities of Appalachia.
Ladies and gentleman, I would first like to thank you for having me here. I am honored to have the opportunity to speak to you about this incredibly important situation. Indeed, it is so important that I have spent a week of my life to travel thousands of miles, knowing I will have only 15 minutes to speak to you. I hope I am up to the task. I regret that I cannot address you directly, in your mother tongue, for we do not share that. But I do hope to reach you as a fellow human being. I will not speak of the images behind me directly, but rather, I will let them play silently in the background as a witness to the irreversible devastation of my home in Appalachia, the second most bio-diverse ecosystem in the world, and the poverty, sickness, suffering and death of many people at the hands of the coal industry. Martin Luther King said, " We must all learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly." First, I would like to propose a toast. I ask each of you to raise your glass with me and drink to our shared destiny. I know it isn't normal to toast with water, but in this case, I think it is highly appropriate because water is one of the few things that all humans, in fact all life on this planet, share. Our planet is 2/3 water and our bodies are more than 3/4 water. And so it is true that whatever any one of us does to the water on this planet, we do to everyone and to all life on earth. The bottle of water I am holding is water that came from a well in a community near where I live. You would be rightfully disturbed if I told you that you had just shared some of this water, unaware, just like the people in so many communities where coal is mined. Don't worry, even if I had shared this water with you, it's doubtful only one sip of it would harm you very much. But unfortunately, my people have had more than one drink. It is their daily reality. It is the water they use to drink, to cook with, and to bathe themselves and their children. I will pass this water around so you can see it up close and you can know what it feels like to hold death in your hands. You are even free to smell it, if you dare. I put it in a water bottle from here because it is symbolic of the very real fact that financing this industry anywhere, makes a problem for you here, because it makes your bank complicit in the system that creates this poison water. The effluents of mining, preparing and burning coal include mercury, chromium, selenium, cadmium, lead and arsenic- just to name a few. Heavy metal poisoning is forever. Once it is ingested into your body, it stays there and, like radiation, it accumulates until it kills you. And even worse, large amounts of this poisoning have begun to cause genetic mutations in aquatic wildlife near my home. These mutations will eventually work their way up the food chain to us, humans, who on our current course of environmental devastation, won't stay at the top of this chain for long. The good news is that we really needn't worry about saving the earth. She has been through several mass extinctions already. We aren't really destroying the earth, we are simply and rapidly making it unfit for human life. This is proven by the fact that 4,000 additional Appalachians die each year in the areas where coal is mined and burned. Death to my people doesn't come quickly from the barrel of a gun. It comes slowly from the simple act of drawing water from the kitchen faucet. There is no difference in killing me slow or killing me fast. Coal in general, and mountaintop removal mining in particular, is far more than an environmental disaster. The production and use of coal is an egregious human rights violation of epic proportions. It is a living, waking nightmare. The question in front of us today is, "Why should you not finance mountaintop removal mining?" If, after hearing me talk and seeing the photographs of the way my communities and our ecosystem are being destroyed, isn't enough, I will give you another reason. You represent the banking industry. Banks exist for one very simply reason: to make a profit. The science has finally arrived to prove what we in Appalachia have always known: coal is killing us. We now have more than 22 peer reviewed scientific studies that show how coal is irreversibly destroying our water and our health. These studies prove that people who live in areas around MTR are far more likely to suffer from heart attacks, cancer, respiratory diseases and are even more likely to have children with birth defects. The science is here and the lawyers will soon follow. Several large cases have already been heard in the courts, with tens of millions of dollars being rewarded to those who have suffered because of coal. This is only the beginning. The courts may finally force the coal industry to pay the true cost of its profits, the human cost- which until now, had been an externalized and hidden cost. Many in the coal industry point to the jobs that coal creates. "Look at all we've given you," they say. And I answer," Yes. I see all you've given me every day. I watch my father gasping for his next breath, just like my grandfathers did. All of them victims of Black Lung disease. I see children dying of brain cancer and my own mother suffering through two fights with cancer. I see the communities left in ravages after you make your profit and leave. I see the five counties in my state that produce the most coal are among the poorest counties in my entire country. And I see you pointing to the food you have laid upon our tables, for a time, as being merely a distraction to the fact that you have poisoned the vessel from which we drink." As human beings with a hearts and minds, we should not need to wait for government legislation in order to do the right thing. Financing coal is exactly and simply financing the poisoning of Appalachian people and our planet. Why do you need to wait for the government to tell you it's wrong? Coal is a barbaric and outdated method for producing heat and energy. There are ways as yet unimagined to do all that coal has done and more. Rather than mining our mountains and destroying our water, invest your best money and efforts in mining the human imagination and the untapped potential for human creativity. The energy in coal pales in comparison to the unlimited and inexhaustible fire of the human spirit. A good investment should be one for the future, rather than one of the past. In hindsight, can you imagine investing in chariots and stagecoaches when the automobile was first introduced? If you can't do it for my children, do it for your own. There is only one water and one air on this planet and, ultimately, it is shared by all of us. Would you want your children to drink this water and breath this toxic air? How would you feel to know that someone in another country was actually realizing a profit from the suffering and reduced life spans in your own community? I will not sit idly by, offering my life as a mechanism of sacrifice for anyone's profits. Stop financing coal. In closing, I would like to share this: Folks often confuse what they do, with who they are. Many people regard bankers as the greedy ones who only care about money and their profit. But I propose a different view, I suggest we look at bankers as those who sit at the right hand of the Architects of the Future. The architect can dream it, but the dream won't manifest unless you, the bankers, finance it. From this perspective, the future truly lies in your hands. What will you choose to make of it? You can choose who you are by what you do. My father, for instance, was not merely a coal miner. He was a man who chose to work hard, at any peril to himself, to provide for his family and see to our wellbeing. He and my mother always chose to give of themselves for what was best for us and our community. The world is a better place due to the kindness, devotion and generosity they shared. Although I don't know you, I have a great belief in each of you. I know each and every one of you has the capacity to change our world for the better. As I leave you, I will offer you this choice: At the end of your lives, as you say to your children of the world you are leaving them, "I built this world and I now leave it to you", will you look back with pride or will you look back in regret? The quality of our future will be measured in much more important terms than simply a financial return on our investments. It will be measured more by our ability to live peacefully with one another and in harmony with the planet that gives us life. As bankers, I challenge you to stop financing nightmares and begin financing Dreams.
I never wanted to become an activist, but I had to. If I hadn't I would have been torn off this mountain a long time ago. There are thousands of people around the world who have heard me speak since I started this work, but honestly I wish to God no one knew my name. I wish I didn't have to leave my home and talk to people about mountaintop removal. Last year I traveled eight months out of the year talking to people about this stuff. But I know I have to bring this message to the world and I'm gonna fight for justice in every way I can. We have to have an uprising. This isn't an uprising that can be bought with money, but one that's coming from the hearts of honest and hardworking people.[caption id="attachment_19943" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Larry sitting in at the White House with Teri Blanton and David Daniel, via Tar Sands Action"][/caption] RAN had a long history with him. The Coal Finance Campaign worked with Larry for years on campaigns to end mountaintop removal. Former RAN Senior Campaigner Annie Sartor remembers working with Larry around the Chase and Bank of America shareholder meetings in 2009 and 2012, respectively: “Larry spoke truth to power in a way that was unparalleled—when Larry spoke, all of the sterile formality, slick greenwashing and empty words of the bankers fell away. In their place was a man who was the living embodiment of integrity and resolve in the face of power. Larry was fighting to save his home.” He had a great impact on a lot of people. Lots of people are heartbroken and saddened by his passing. Gatherings, protests and Mountain Justice camps in Appalachia won’t be the same without Larry Gibson in his neon yellow hat and t-shirt sharing with us his truths about growing up in West Virginia, standing up to the likes of Massey and Arch Coal, and just putting his arm around you and listening to what you had to say. He changed us all and will be sorely missed.