In the coming months, big Wall Street banks could finance the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Australia, is the world's biggest stretch of coral reef and is probably the planet’s richest area in terms of animal diversity. It’s home to 1,500 species of fish, 400 kinds of coral, and at least 30 types of whales and dolphins—it’s an important area for humpback whales giving birth and raising their young. The reef is also a key habitat for two endangered—and beautiful—species: the green sea turtle and the dugong, or “sea cow.” And it’s a global treasure, a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.1
Now the Great Barrier Reef is facing a massive threat. A huge corporation, Adani, wants to expand the Abbot Point coal terminal into the one of the world’s biggest coal ports, right in the middle of the reef World Heritage Area. To do that, they’re planning to dig up 3 million cubic meters of seabed, wrecking the habitat of thousands of species. Analysts project that, if the port is expanded, thousands more coal ships would pass through the reef each year, polluting the ocean as they go and posing a constant threat of catastrophic spills.
But the port can’t go forward unless Adani finds several big banks to fund their astonishingly reckless plan. Thanks to the efforts of a worldwide coalition of environmentalists, a number of European banks have pledged not to underwrite the project. So now the company is looking to Wall Street—and so far, the big U.S. banks haven’t yet committed to not financing the project.
There’s another reason we need to stop this plan, besides the acute threat to the reef: the Abbot Point port expansion would light the fuse on a carbon bomb on the scale of the Alberta tar sands. The port is a key piece of infrastructure in a coal industry plan to build a cluster of new mega-mines in a vast coalfield called the Galilee basin. Australia is already the world’s second-biggest coal exporter, and these new mines would double the country’s output. With the world hurtling toward devastating levels of global warming, the next few years are crucial for us to change the course of climate history, and the fight over Abbot Point is one that we have to win. We have the technology to meet our energy demand from clean, renewable sources—there’s no need to unlock these vast reserves of dirty coal for the sake of corporate profits.
Rainforest Action Network has a long track record of pressuring banks to quash dirty energy deals, and we’re already talking to the biggest players on Wall Street to push them not to bankroll the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef. We’re telling bank executives: destroying a World Heritage Site and cooking the climate for the sake of as little as a few million dollars in fees is not a good deal. But we can’t win in the boardroom unless Wall Street knows that this is one deal the public won’t let them get away with. In the coming months, Adani will be reaching out to the big banks to secure financing, so we need to raise our voices now.
Stand with RAN as we demand that Wall Street not destroy the Great Barrier Reef.
The coal industry is embarking on a project that would destroy the Great Barrier Reef by massively expanding a coal terminal and building new coal mines in eastern Australia. The resultant dredging and ship traffic would devastate this delicate ecosystem and global treasure. The climate impacts would be terrible as well -- doubling coal production in Australia, already one of the world's worst offenders in mining this dirty fossil fuel.
But the coal industry needs international bank funding to make their reckless new project happen. Several European banks have already made public commitments not to fund this horrifically destructive project. Stand with RAN as we push the big Wall Street banks to do the same.
Take action now, and tell Wall Street you won't stand for them destroying the Great Barrier Reef.
Add your voice!
Wall Street must not finance the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef by funding the coal industry’s reckless scheme to expand the Abbot Point coal terminal. The expansion would devastate a delicate ecosystem and lead to terrible damage to the climate. Make a public commitment not to fund this horrifically destructive project now!
We did it! We’ve won the first round in a fight against using U.S. tax dollars to finance the dirtiest coal projects around the world, thanks to an outpouring of opposition from environmental activists, including RAN members.
West Virginia Senator and “mouthpiece for the coal industry” Joe Manchin had sought to include a giveaway to Big Coal in legislation reauthorizing the federal Export-Import Bank. But Manchin backed down in the face of mounting pressure earlier this week, instead introducing a “clean” bill without the coal industry goodies.
This is big step in the right direction. Pushing public banks to scale back funding for coal is critical to Rainforest Action Network’s long-term goal of preventing the entire financial sector from bankrolling climate chaos. Public sector financing is one of the few areas on climate where the United States is leading the way, as a result of a new rule put in place last year by the Obama administration limiting the use of federal money to support dirty coal plants abroad.
That policy now remains in place, thanks in part to your advocacy. But Manchin looks determined to reintroduce his coal giveaway as an amendment in the coming months, and if he does we’ll need to raise our voices again. We’ll be watching — and we’ll be back in touch.
But let’s take a moment to celebrate! Thanks for standing up to Big Coal.
This week, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) had this to say about the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon pollution standards for power plants:
“You talk about terrorism — you can do it in a lot of different ways.”1
Here’s a good rule of thumb in political debate: when someone invokes terrorism out of the blue, you know they’ve lost the argument.
Because the environmental movement has it right — pollution from coal-fired power plants kills communities and cooks our climate. That’s why the EPA’s long-overdue carbon standards, announced last month, are so important.
This new rule is a welcome step, but we need more. Tell the EPA to strengthen its limits on carbon pollution from power plants.
We already limit arsenic, mercury, soot and other air pollution from power plants—but, until now, not carbon pollution. Power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. Setting the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution is an essential step to address global warming and here at RAN we absolutely support a national carbon pollution standard.
No matter what the fossil fuel industry-funded politicians like Mike Kelly may say, communities across the nation are already seeing and feeling the impacts of global warming, from increased health risks like asthma attacks and lung disease, to devastating extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy and wildfires across the American West. The science is clear: inaction will only increase these deadly and costly threats.
This is exactly why communities from Chicago to North Carolina, from New England to New Mexico, have spent years fighting to shut down the polluting power plants in their neighborhoods.
The EPA is now accepting public comments on its proposed rule. Write the EPA today—say we need a stronger rule for a stable climate!
To be clear, the proposed carbon pollution standard is just one step. To keep our climate stable, we must rapidly shift our energy production away from the highest-polluting fossil fuels and accelerate our transition to truly clean, renewable energy generation.
The proposed rule is not yet enough to slow global warming and not yet enough to inspire the world to make the necessary deep cuts in climate pollution. That is why we will be working hard next year to include much deeper cuts in the final rule.
We know that the coal industry and the politicians it funds will work to undermine this rule and doom communities to years of future pollution.
Together, we can meet our obligation to protect our climate for our children and future generations.
1. “Congressman Compares EPA’s New Climate Rule To Terrorism”, ThinkProgress, July 28, 2014.
West Virginia Democrat and “mouthpiece for the coal industry” Joe Manchin is trying to undo a new rule that would limit the use of U.S. tax dollars to finance dirty coal plants around the world. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is currently weighing whether or not to allow Manchin to attach his pro-coal amendment to existing legislation.
Tell Harry Reid: No U.S. tax dollars for dirty coal plants abroad!
It all has to do with a federal bank you've probably never heard of, the Export-Import Bank. The Export-Import Bank provides financing for U.S. businesses operating internationally, and up until now has been a huge funder of fossil fuel development around the globe. Under President Obama, the bank has financed more than $27 billion in international fossil fuel projects, compared with less than $2 billion in clean energy projects. So it was a big step forward when the White House announced plans last year to drastically restrict the bank’s support for coal plants abroad.
But now senators with deep ties to coal mining, led by Manchin, want to block the new rule from taking effect, and they’re threatening to hold up the bank’s reauthorization in Congress if they don’t get their way. If they succeed, it would send the wrong signal to the entire financial sector, undermine the president’s leverage to push other nations to adopt similar policies on coal finance, and have devastating impacts for local communities slated for development.
Tell Harry Reid: No concessions for Big Coal in the Export-Import Bank reauthorization!
It’s no surprise that senators in the pocket of Big Coal like Joe Manchin would try and block this modest and urgently-needed policy. Manchin is one of the top recipients of coal industry money in Congress today, and has a history of deep personal ties to coal companies: environmentalists in West Virginia report that Manchin has “been nothing but a mouthpiece for the coal industry his whole public life.”1
But it’s a disappointment to see the Democratic Senate leadership consider bowing to Manchin’s demands. Harry Reid has criticized Republicans for “denying reality” on climate change, and has said he won’t allow the GOP to hold this year’s interim budget hostage over Republican opposition to EPA action on carbon pollution. But it’s not enough for Reid to talk tough with his political opponents if he’s willing to entertain concessions to the fossil fuel industry to please members of his own party.
Right now, Senator Reid is leading negotiations over whether to allow Manchin’s pro-coal amendment into the final bill. We have a limited window to make sure Reid knows we’ll hold him accountable for whether our tax dollars are used to fuel climate change.
Tell Senate Majority Leader Reid not to back down on international coal finance.
Pushing public banks to scale back funding for coal is critical to Rainforest Action Network’s long-term goal of preventing the financial sector overall from bankrolling climate chaos. That’s why we can’t let a minority of coal loyalists undo the gains we’ve worked to achieve together. With a constantly shrinking amount of time left to stabilize atmospheric carbon and avert the worst impacts of climate change, we need Senator Reid to stand tall and uphold this long-overdue policy.
Add your voice now.
P.S. For more on this issue, check out my op-ed in The Hill, the influential Capitol Hill newspaper: "Will Harry Reid Undermine Obama's Climate Legacy?"
1. “Sen. Manchin Maintains Lucrative Ties to Family-Owned Coal Company”, New York Times, July 26, 2011.
The federal Export-Import Bank, which provides financing for U.S. businesses operating internationally, has up until now been a huge funder of global carbon emissions. Under President Obama, the bank has financed more than $27 billion in international fossil fuel projects, compared with less than $2 billion in clean energy projects. So it was a big step forward when the White House announced plans last year to drastically scale back the bank’s support for coal plants abroad.
But now Senators with deep ties to mining, led by West Virginia Democrat and “mouthpiece for the coal industry” Joe Manchin, want to block the new rule from taking effect, and they’re threatening to hold up the bank’s reauthorization in Congress if they don’t get their way. If they succeed, it would send the wrong signal to the entire financial sector, undermine the President’s leverage to push other nations to adopt similar policies on coal finance, and have devastating impacts for local communities slated for development.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is currently leading negotiations over whether to allow Manchin’s pro-coal amendment into the final bill. We have a limited window to make sure Reid knows we’ll hold him accountable for whether our tax dollars are used to fuel climate change.
Tell Harry Reid: No U.S. tax dollars for dirty coal plants abroad!
Last month I was in Chicago to attend the U.S. Climate Action Network’s national meeting. The keynote speaker was Gina McCarthy, head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Her speech focused on the agency's recently proposed carbon pollution standards, the first-ever rule to limit carbon pollution from power plants.
Gina made her presentation standing alongside this image, which made me smile:
It’s an image I know well because it depicts a protest that Rainforest Action Network organized in 2011, along with our friends at Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and some bold Chicago activists.
One morning, very early, we showed up at the Crawford Power Plant and climbed on top of a giant pile of coal to display a giant banner that reads "CLOSE CHICAGO’S TOXIC COAL PLANTS":
Our direct action that cold April morning was part of a multi-year campaign involving a huge coalition of Chicagoans to put pressure on the city of Chicago and the utility company, Midwest Generation, to retire their deadly "cloud factories".
Crawford was one of the last two remaining urban coal-fired power plants in the United States and their pollution was responsible for more than 40 deaths, 720 asthma attacks and 66 heart attacks annually.
I use the past tense because, thankfully, this coal plant has now been retired. And there is even better news: an exciting plan being formulated by a community/city partnership to regenerate the coal plant site with businesses that will offer good jobs to the local community in Little Village.
It is an inspiring example of what can happen when communities organize for a better future. But we still have more to do. We need to retire the remaining 356 coal plants in the United States, reduce our energy demands through efficiency measures and rapidly accelerate our transition to clean, renewable energy generation.
Please help make this a reality by taking action today! Send your comment to the EPA to demand a strengthened carbon emissions rule.
"If it was easy they wouldn't call it 'struggle.'"
—Old anarchist saying
Not long ago, before fracking, before Keystone XL, the environmental issue in the headlines was mountaintop removal coal mining in central Appalachia.
Mountaintop removal is a horrible practice where coal companies literally explode the tops off of mountains with the same chemical concoction that Tim McVeigh used in Oklahoma City. The companies then push the debris of fallen trees and blasted rock into Appalachia's streams and rivers. Then, the industry "cleans" the coal in nearby processing plants putting the waste into "sludge ponds" leaving billions of gallons of coal sludge around the region.
Not only are the forests, mountains and animals living on them devastated by the practice, but people living near the mine sites are exposed to air and water pollution, amongst other things. The impact of doing this in populated areas makes mountaintop removal one of the most egregious environmental justice issues in North America today.
Furthermore, this damage done to the environment and people living in it is to power America's power grid and keep the electricity going to our homes cheap.
Ten years ago, small community groups living in the "sacrifice zone" teamed up with grassroots direct action groups to launch the first Mountain Justice Summer (MJS). In MJS, activists from across the country spent the summer in Appalachia organizing against mountaintop removal coal mining. Over the years, hundreds of activists have been arrested in mine site occupations, office disruptions, tree-sits, mass protests at the White House and various other locations. Law suits have been filed and won. Politicians, bureaucrats, bankers and mining execs have been petitioned, lobbied and bird-dogged over the years.
Yet mountaintop removal still continues.
But Appalachia's mountain fighters persevere. This week, on the tenth anniversary of the first Mountain Justice Summer, eight activists were arrested blockading and disrupting the largest mining company operating in Appalachia, Alpha Natural Resources, offices in Bristol Virginia.
The legal process has been slow and arduous in Virginia and the eight mountain fighters have spent days in jail merely awaiting bail hearings. As of Friday, two of them still remain in jail (BTW, donate to the legal fund!).
While many of the activities (emails, petitions, big marches, etc.) that the well-funded climate establishment is engaged in has become a good access point for a greater number of people and create much earned and social media, these activities are already factored into the power-holder's formula for maintaining the existing political economy.
In other words, more is needed.
In building a movement to scale to confront the worst consequences of climate change, increased fossil fuel extraction and the destruction of Appalachia's Mountains, more bold and effective action that includes struggle and sacrifice must happen.
Like forest defenders in the eighties and nineties, the Tar Sands Blockade in Texas and Oklahoma, the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands, and tar sands resisters currently camped out in eastern Utah, Appalachia's mountain fighters are participating in a "long haul" struggle to stop resource extraction at the point of operation and destruction. Their activities disrupt business as usual, add to the companies' operating cost and, more often than not, risk a harsher backlash.
It's not easy and the struggle is far from over.
Top: Activists blockade Alpha's offices in Bristol, VA
Bottom: Activist climbs and deploys a banner on a flagpole outside of Alpha's HQ in Bristol, VA
A few days ago, I sat down for an interview with the good folks at Living on Earth, Public Radio International's weekly environmental news show.
We talked about RAN's work fighting mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining in Appalachia, and the banks that fund it. From that interview, here are five things you need to know:
- MTR destroys some of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the U.S. The first step in blowing the top off a mountain is clear cutting the forest off the top of it—some of the most diverse forests in the United States.
- MTR debris is toxic. The rubble that's left after the coal gets picked out of it is full of mercury and heavy metals—and all of it gets pushed into the valleys and streams next to the blown-up mountain.
- MTR is big business for big banks. When RAN began campaigning on MTR, all of the major U.S. banks and most of the big European ones were doing deals with MTR mining companies.
- Our pressure on the banking sector is working—but there are some significant holdouts. We’ve successfully pushed Wells Fargo, J.P. Morgan Chase, Royal Bank of Scotland and BNP Paribas/Bank of the West to stop doing business with the biggest MTR companies. But PNC Bank, Citibank, Morgan Stanley and Barclays—the number one financier of MTR—are still profiting from this horrific practice.
- Banks don't like it when you ask them about MTR. Living on Earth contacted all four holdout banks. Only Barclays offered any response.
This morning, the EPA announced limits on carbon pollution from power plants. That's a welcome step in fighting climate change—and it wouldn't have happened without communities speaking out against coal plants. Here at RAN, we're proud of the role our network of friends and activists has played in building pressure over the last several years.
Stop TXU! Activists stage protests against financial institutions linked to Texas utility company TXU’s controversial plans to build 11 new coal-fired power plants as part of an expansion strategy that would make it the single largest corporate greenhouse gas emitter in the Unites States. Winter 2007. Photo: Andrew Stern.
University of Kentucky Fossil Fools Day. Students raise a wind turbine atop a coal mound as part of an action for Fossil Fools Day at University of Kentucky. April 1, 2008.
Wise Coal Action. Virginia residents and anti-coal activists form a blockade to disrupt the construction of Dominion's Wise County Coal-Fired Power Plant. September 2008.
Capitol Climate Action. Thousands of activists surround the Capitol Coal Plant in Washington DC to demand its retirement. March 2009.
Duke Energy's Cliffside Coal Plant. RAN activists holding a banner in front of Duke Energy's Cliffside coal plant in Cliffside, North Carolina. The banner action coincided with the release a new report, The Principle Matter: Banks, Climate & The Carbon Principles. January 2011.
Crawford Coal Plant Banner. Six activists with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), Rising Tide North America, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and the Backbone Campaign climbed the fence to Midwest Generation’s controversial Crawford coal plant in Little Village. The activists unfurled a 7' x 30' banner atop a 20-foot tall sprawling coal pile that feeds the power plant, which reads: "Close Chicago's Toxic Coal Plants." April 2011.
Stand with Pat: Tell BofA to Stop Funding Coal. Grandmothers Pat Moore and Beth Henry and seven others were arrested outside of four different Bank of America branches in Charlotte, NC delivering a simple yet urgent message to the bank: they must STOP funding coal. November 2012. Photo: © Paul Corbit Brown.