Cracks in Big Coal’s Empire

By scott parkin

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Don Blankenship‘s empire is crumbling. Mountaintop removal coal mining may well be on it’s way out. The money’s drying up. Appalachia is rising in Washington D.C. And we’re seeing some VERY interesting developments on Wall Street and in Washington.

The New York Times reported yesterday (A1 in the print edition) that some of the biggest Wall Street banks (Citi, Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse) were moving away from the financing of mountaintop removal and other environmental disasters. After years of work NGOs like RAN, Appalachian groups and grassroots activists, have shifted the banking sector away from mountaintop removal.

The four biggest banks in the U.S. –Bank of America, Citi, Wells Fargo and Chase– have all also stopped funding “the poster child of mountaintop removal” Massey Energy. Massey’s PR aces, on the game as always, have tried to brush off the story about the money drying up, but we all know it’s for real. In the Times article, Massey’s Roger S. Hendriksen, the vice president for investor relations response was ““While some banks no longer provide financing for companies conducting surface mining, there are many who will. We have and will continue to replace their services with alternate bank providers with little difficulty.

Yeah Roger, we’ll see about that.

The two remaining outliers bankrolling Massey and lots of other mountaintop removal are PNC (a rapidly growing regional bank in Pittsburgh) and UBS (a Swiss banking monster). Just a taste of what they are up to: UBS gave $360 million to Massey in bonds and PNC gave $60 million (both in 2008). PNC claims to be “the greenest bank in the business” and responded to the NY Times article with a full page ad today touting their community and environmental service.

How can you claim to be the “greenest bank in the business” if you are fund ecological criminals that account for half of mountaintop removal operations in Appalachia? Just sayin’

And our work ain’t about rich bankers, it’s about the people in Appalachian and they are rising. On Monday, a group of Appalachian residents held a press conference in Washington D.C. announcing Appalachia Rising and calling for the abolition of mountaintop removal. The press conference included retired underground coal miners, a Vietnam war veteran, a coal miners’ daughter, and residents of Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia’s coalfields.

Appalachia Rising is a mass mobilization with a mass civil disobedience planned on September 27 in Washington D.C.

“I’d rather not travel to Washington DC. I’d rather not break the law in non-violent civil disobedience. Frankly, I’d like to work in the garden in my retirement, but when 300 million gallons of toxic coal sludge from a Massey Energy impoundment flooded Martin County, my home, I found myself in a fight for the life of my land and community, and with those stakes, you don’t have a choice. The time for action is now!” said Mickey McCoy resident and former mayor of Inez, in Martin County, K.Y.

App Rising’s organizing is going REALLY well and we’re expecting a strong turnout. I’ll be there with a whole bunch of friends and we’re going to make powerful statement about Washington allowing mountaintop removal to continue to exist.