This post is by Ben Collins of RAN and Yann Louvel of BankTrack.
The campaign to stop bank financing of mountaintop removal coal mining is gaining momentum.
For years, RAN and other organizations in the global BankTrack network have urged U.S. and European banks to stop financing the devastation caused by mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining. BankTrack members have worked closely with advocates from Appalachia — the region hardest hit by MTR — including Paul Corbit Brown and Elise Keaton from Keeper of the Mountains, and Bob Kincaid from Coal River Mountain Watch. Together, they’ve travelled around the U.S. and Europe to speak directly to CEOs and boards of banks at their annual shareholder meetings and urge them to stop bankrolling mountaintop removal coal mining.
This week, we have an opportunity to push France’s biggest bank, Crédit Agricole, to stop profiting from MTR once and for all. At today’s annual shareholder meeting, Paul Corbit Brown and staff from Friends of the Earth France urged the bank’s CEO, Jean-Paul Chifflet, to follow the lead of other banks and stop funding the biggest and most destructive MTR companies.
Public pressure to stop funding MTR started showing results a few years ago. U.S. banks were the first to react in 2008, adopting a mix of enhanced due diligence procedures and financing thresholds for companies that engage in mountaintop removal. But real change started to happen last year, when Wells Fargo in the U.S., and Crédit Agricole and BNP Paribas in France, adopted new policies on MTR. These covered both direct project financing of MTR projects — which is pretty rare — and, more importantly, general corporate financing of coal mining companies active in MTR.
The implications of these new policies are potentially huge: the biggest and most harmful producers of MTR coal, such as Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal, raise their funding from general corporate loans from banks or from bonds or shares issued to investors. And these are precisely the transactions that should be excluded by these new policies, which bar financing for companies that are “significant” producers of MTR coal.
But we’ve learned that different banks define "significant" in wildly different ways. BNP Paribas blacklists the main companies active in MTR production, including Alpha and Arch. But Crédit Agricole — while its policy looks similar to BNP’s on paper — excludes only those coal mining companies that produce more than 20% of their coal from MTR. In practice, they aren’t prohibited from doing business with any MTR companies at all!
Crédit Agricole has financed several loan and bond deals for Alpha and Arch — the worst of the worst MTR companies — while BNP Paribas hasn’t done any deals with these two companies since last year. Ironically for Crédit Agricole, financing MTR has not only been bad for the environment and human rights — it’s also been a bad investment. The bank suffered significant financial losses from loans it made to recently-bankrupt MTR miner Trinity Coal.
In contrast to Crédit Agricole, other U.S. and European banks have taken concrete steps away from MTR financing this spring. Last month, JPMorgan Chase published an update of its environmental and social policy framework, stating that they expected to continue defunding companies engaged in mountaintop mining. And in the U.K., Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) published a mining policy update prohibiting deals with the main MTR producers. Unlike Crédit Agricole’s new policy, these policy changes at JPMorgan Chase and RBS have teeth: both banks will stop financing top MTR producers, including Alpha and Arch.
Today, our allies went straight to Crédit Agricole’s annual shareholder meeting to tell the bank’s CEO and board close its massive MTR loophole, and stop funding Alpha and Arch.
Yann Louvel, Climate and Energy Campaign Coordinator, BankTrack
Ben Collins, Research and Policy Campaigner, Rainforest Action Network
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.
Judy endured much personal suffering for her leadership. While people of lesser courage would candy-coat their words or simply shut up and sit down, Judy called it as she saw it. She endured physical assault, verbal abuse, and death threats because she stood up for justice for her community.The last time I saw Judy was last March. We had been at Mountain Justice Spring Break in southwest Virginia, and got up early to support the RAN team who occupied the lawn of the EPA to call for an end to mountaintop removal. We watched the action via livestream, and when I showed Judy the pictures of the action, she was beaming with a big smile and much excitement as the fight to end mountaintop removal had become a national issue and been taken out of the hills and hollers of Appalachia into offices of the power-holders in Washington D.C. After she'd gotten sick, youth and coalfield residents organized a "thousand hillbilly" march on Washington (also known as Appalachia Rising) that Judy had always dreamed of. While we sat in and awaited arrest in front of the White House, we called her and left messages of love and support. We missed her that day. Tonight I'm sad and mourning Judy, but also celebrating her life, in part by carrying on her struggle for justice in Appalachia. When they write "The People's History of the 21st Century," Judy will be prominently featured in the chapters on mountaintop removal and Appalachia. I'll end this essay with more of Vernon's words:
Judy will be missed by all in this movement, as an icon, a leader, an inspiration, and a friend. No words can ever express what she has meant, and what she will always mean. We will tell stories about her, around fires, in meeting rooms, and any place where people are gathered in the name of justice and love for our fellow human beings. When we prevail, as we must, we will remember Judy as one of the great heroes of our movement. We will always remember her for her passion, conviction, tenacity, and courage, as well as her love of family and friends and her compassion for her fellow human beings. While we grieve, let’s remember what she said, “Fight harder."
Rest in Peace Judy, we'll miss and always love you.
While this decision was an important one, many coalfield residents and organizers like myself, question whether this announcement will hold its course. In a post by Jeff Biggers in the Nation entitled "Coalfield Uprising", he explains how this decision has only strengthened activists resolve. "While we appreciate the EPA making this step to bring back enforcement of the Clean Water Act," says Lorelei Scarbro, an organizer with Coal River Mountain Watch and a coal miner's widow whose garden and hillside orchards border a proposed mountaintop removal site in West Virginia, "we will continue to come to Washington, DC, until mountaintop removal's irreversible devastation to our communities and waterways is halted." It is hard for those who live under active blasting to see this as a sign of hope, as I mentioned before, this decision does nothing to address the destruction that is taking place daily throughout West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, Tennesee and Virginia. Earlier this spring, Bo Webb, a coal miner’s son and Vietnam veteran sent an open letter to Obama in which he wrote "My family and I, like many American citizens in Appalachia, are living in a state of terror. Like sitting ducks waiting to be buried in an avalanche of mountain waste, or crushed by a falling boulder, we are trapped in a war zone within our own country." In response to the EPA’s decision Teri Blanton of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth remarked, "This is great news, but it will take more than regulations to end the destruction. Mountaintop removal and valley fills should be banned." EPA has the authority to veto the permits, but only time will tell if they will use the full extent of their oversight to block this destructive practice and put an end to Mountaintop removal once and for all.