It's been one month since the climate movement won a significant delay on the Keystone XL pipeline. Since then, the oil industry and their political and media backers have gotten increasingly desperate:
- Oil companies tried to ram a vote on Keystone through the U.S. Senate. Last week, that effort collapsed in disarray and finger-pointing among the fossil fuel industry's biggest political boosters.
- TransCanada, the Canadian company behind Keystone, even resorted to threats to sue the U.S. government under NAFTA. Early this month, they were forced to disavow that outrageous tactic.
- Pro-Keystone commentators are truly grasping at straws, including claiming that President Obama is delaying a decision to pave the way for a government takeover of the energy sector,1 and arguing that it's the poor, under-resourced oil industry—and not the environmental movement—that’s the real underdog in the fight over the pipeline.2
These bottom-of-the-barrel tactics signal that fossil fuel corporations will do anything to avoid facing up to the view that one prominent analyst voiced this month: "We have been of the opinion for nearly a year now that Keystone XL is dead."3This delay means another year that tar sands oil stays in the ground, instead of flowing through the pipeline. This delay is another nail in the coffin of this disastrous project. And you—the incredible grassroots tide of resolve and determination—are the ones who made this happen.
Keystone would have been just another routine dirty energy infrastructure project if not for public pressure—like the unprecedented 2.5 million public comments submitted into the approvals process. People all along the pipeline route, from Alberta to the Gulf Coast—especially Indigenous communities and farming communities—mobilized against the project.
Another key factor has been the threat of massive civil disobedience if President Obama approves the pipeline—one veteran environmental campaigner called it the "sharpest arrow in the quiver" of the Keystone opposition movement. Almost 100,000 people signed Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance, committing to take direct action if the administration lights the fuse of the continent’s biggest carbon bomb.
So while we're proud that the movement won a major delay, the struggle is far from over. Here at Rainforest Action Network, we're staying vigilant on Keystone. We're continuing to hone the cutting edge of the climate movement by training committed activists. And we're taking fast, strategic action to block dirty energy deals.
Thank you for all you've done.
1. “Obama Blocks Keystone To Start Energy Takeover,” Investor’s Business Daily, May 13, 2014 (http://news.investors.com/ibd-editorials-perspective/051314-700702-obama-wants-energy-markets-fossil-fuels-under-government-heel.htm)
2. “Mainstream media don't know Big Green has deeper pockets than Big Oil,” Washington Examiner, May 13, 2014 (http://washingtonexaminer.com/mainstream-media-dont-know-big-green-has-deeper-pockets-than-big-oil/article/2548405)
3. “The Keystone Pipeline is Quickly Becoming Obsolete,” Business Insider, May 7, 2014 (http://www.businessinsider.com/the-keystone-pipeline-is-quickly-becoming-obsolete-2014-5)
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.
Today, food and beverage giant PepsiCo declared that it will no longer accept land grabbing in its global supply chains. Land grabbing occurs when Indigenous Peoples or local communities are kicked off their land so corporations can make profits from growing palm oil, sugar, and other crops.
This announcement comes after significant consumer pressure from Oxfam's Behind the Brand Campaign and PepsiCo investors who called on the company to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for land grabbing.
The adoption of its new Land Policy is a positive step forward for PepsiCo, but we know all too well that actions are stronger than words. PepsiCo must take real action to deal with its land grabbing problem. Given that land grabbing is also a symptom of PepsiCo's deforestation and Conflict Palm Oil problems, it must now make the next bold move and implement a responsible palm oil sourcing and no deforestation policy.
PepsiCo is a huge company, operating in over 200 countries and earning $65.6 billion in revenue each year. Its well known brands, including Pepsi, Doritos, Ruffles, Cheetos and Quaker, are found in homes around the world. RAN has exposed the dangers of Conflict Palm Oil and the fact that it ends up in chips, cookies and granola bars made by PepsiCo. PepsiCo sources its palm oil from companies like Cargill, Wilmar and AAK in Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico.
Despite the growing concern over Conflict Palm Oil, PepsiCo has not adopted a responsible palm oil policy to remove deforestation and social conflict from its global supply chain. Instead of taking responsibility for its supply chain, the company relies solely on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The RSPO continues to certify companies that are destroying rainforests and peatlands and causing high greenhouse gas emissions. It also has a poor track record of enforcing its human and labor rights standards, and resolving disputes between certified companies and local communities over land grabbing.
PepsiCo cannot rely on the RSPO.
To address these problems fully, PepsiCo must join other leading consumer companies and adopt responsible palm oil sourcing and no deforestation policies and cut Conflict Palm Oil from its products.
You can help pressure PepsiCo to tackle its deforestation and Conflict Palm Oil problems next.
On May 7th, PepsiCo will need to face up to its shareholders who will be casting their vote on a deforestation resolution at its annual general meeting. With your help, we’ll convince PepsiCo to do the right thing for the forests and the people that depend on them for their survival. Add your voice here.
Banner photo via C.J. Chanco Inset photo via Oxfam
Sometimes the problem of climate change and environmental destruction seems so large that it feels insurmountable. We've changed our light bulbs to those weird looking things, and we signed up for the Pledge of Resistance. What more can we do? The answer is as close as your kitchen. A United Nations Environment Program report in 2006 stated that "rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars." So what's the magic light bulb fix for that? Switching to a plant-based diet would be a good start in helping to alleviate such a burden. Where do you start? How about joining Rainforest Action Network on March 20 by taking the Farm Animal Rights Movement’s pledge to eat only plant-based foods. And in the meantime, arm yourself with these facts that show how even a small change can make a big difference.
1. About 70 billion farm animals are killed every year for food—that’s over 100,000 animals every second.
Besides the ethical implications, those animals all need places to live, food to eat, and water to drink, and that’s no easy, or clean, feat.
2. It takes 1500 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat.
As droughts become more prevalent, keep in mind that not eating one pound of meat saves as much water as eliminating four months of 5-minute showers.
3. Animals raised for food in the US produce 31,000 pounds of manure a second.
When you gotta go, you gotta go. But when you’re going that much, where does all of it end up?
4. That manure has to go somewhere.
The number 1 dairy producer in the US, California, identified agriculture, including cows, as the major source of nitrate pollution in more than 100,000 square miles of polluted groundwater (61% of the entire state).
5. Pig, chicken and cow waste has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states.
That’s over 8 times the length of the Nile, the longest river in the world.
6. All is not lost. The United Nations Environment Program has the solution:
“A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”
7. By switching to a plant-based diet, you’re helping yourself, the Earth, and you’re creating 70 billion smiles.
That’s something we can all feel good about. Take the pledge today.
//www.youtube.com/embed/EyJ70Dqz5cQMore than 78,000 have already signed the Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance, committing to risk arrest, if necessary, to stop Keystone XL and send a message to the President that we must move forward on climate. We must defeat Keystone XL. Join us and take the pledge: www.nokxl.org/pledge
This post is by Yann Louvel, BankTrack Climate and Energy Campaign Coordinator.
Earlier this month, Bank of America participated in the 2014 Investor Summit on Climate Risk as the “convening sponsor” of the event. While there was a lot of talk about the urgency of the problem of tackling climate change, there were a few things the bank didn’t talk about. For starters, their role in financing the coal industry.
The 2014 Investor Summit on Climate Risk took place at the United Nations in New York on January 14th. Among the speakers was Lisa Carnoy, Head of Global Capital Markets for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, whose bio tells us that she “leads 700 Capital Markets professionals across Equity Capital Markets, Debt Capital Markets, Leveraged Finance and Origination of Corporate Derivatives and FX across the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Emerging Markets.”
If the bank’s finance for fossil fuels wasn’t mentioned at all, what do you think Carnoy did talk about in her speech? You may be pleased to hear that she conveyed the great imperative felt by the banking sector on climate change. Bank of America’s approach to the issue would be “like a hockey team: we’re fierce, we’re fast, and we feel the urgency.” What’s more, the banking sector as a whole was coming together to “put aside its natural competitiveness,” because “this is incredibly important, the time is now, and we need to work together.”
Great! So how had this fierce, fast hockey team come together to tackle climate change? The one initiative Carnoy presented was the Green Bonds Principles, a set of voluntary guidelines for how banks can develop and issue bonds to support green industries, which she implored investors to get behind.
While we support any efforts to scale up finance for genuine alternatives to fossil fuels, Bank of America’s backing for green bonds is dwarfed by the activities that Carnoy did not talk about. These are the activities that we have been exploring in our most recent reports: its finance for the coal sector. Bank of America was ranked the number three “climate killer bank” worldwide in the BankTrack network’s 2011 Bankrolling Climate Change report, which covered investments in 70 of the largest coal companies between 2005 and 2011. And in BankTrack’s more recent Banking on Coal report, Bank of America again ranked world number three, this time in its finance for coal mining, based on an analysis of finance for 70 coal mining companies worldwide.
Among the deals Carnoy did not talk about are some (not remotely green) bonds issued by her Capital Markets team over the last two years, which helped to raise over $1 billion for Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal. These companies are pure-play US coal miners, and are being targeted by campaigners for their involvement in destructive mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. These bonds are toxic for our climate as well as for the investors who buy them, spreading climate risk through the financial markets in the form of potential future “stranded assets.”
While Bank of America is asking investors to back the Green Bonds Principles, it is investors who should be asking Bank of America to stop feeding them with these financially risky climate killer bonds. And now that Bank of America feels the “urgency” and “imperative” of tackling climate change, it would do well to stop financing climate change through issuing bonds for coal mining.
It is time for banks to come together, put aside their natural competitiveness, and agree to stop financing coal. Because this is incredibly important. The time is now.
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.