Guest Blog: Earth Quakers Deliver Toxic Water to PNC Banks

By Rainforest Action Network

A Guest Blog by Amy Ward Brimmer, Executive Director—Earth Quaker Action Team

On December 1, Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) put PNC Bank on notice: the campaign to stop PNC from financing mountaintop removal coal mining is powerful, growing, and rapidly spreading across the bank’s geographic territory. Last Saturday saw the largest single-day protest against PNC’s investments in mountaintop removal since EQAT launched their Bank Like Appalachia Matters (BLAM!) campaign in 2010.

From Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, Princeton to Cincinnati, EQAT coordinated 15 nonviolent direct action protests at PNC bank branches in five states and Washington, DC. At most locations, activists brought samples of contaminated water taken from Eunice, WV containing arsenic, selenium, mercury, and other toxins that routinely leach into the water table as a result of the mountaintop removal mining process. The water came from the well of Junior Walk, who currently suffers from severe gastro-intestinal illnesses and other health problems common in the region, where increased rates of cancer and birth defects have been documented.

Demonstrations included a banner drop over a highway in Morgantown, WV, mock “taste tests” of contaminated water in Princeton, a parade of toxic chemicals with a sit-in at Bryn Mawr, PA, and numerous public statements by PNC customers who closed their accounts on Saturday or who plan to do so unless PNC adopts a sector exclusion banning investments in mountaintop removal.

Two years ago, in response to demonstrations by Earth Quaker Action Team, PNC updated their Corporate Responsibility Report with a policy that prohibits investments in coal companies that source a majority of their coal from mountaintop removal. The policy, however, does not apply to any of the six largest mountaintop removal corporations with whom PNC does business, and has not significantly impacted PNC’s investments in the industry, according to a recent RAN report.

“We know PNC can do better, and we are committed to using nonviolence to stand up for the people of Appalachia,” said Bryn Mawr student Samantha Shain.

“PNC was formed from a merger between Pittsburgh National and Provident Bank, which was founded by Quakers,” said EQAT board member Eileen Flanagan. “As Quakers, we feel that if PNC is going to promote itself as a ‘green’ bank, they must act with integrity and live up to their claims of caring about the environment and the communities where they do business.”

PNC’s response to the Day of Action was consistent with their reaction to the Green Walk for Jobs and Justice staged by EQAT last spring: no comment. Activists report being met by security guards or police at the door, being threatened with arrest, being told by bank employees (including managers) that they could lose their jobs if they spoke to EQATers about the issue, and being blocked from entering. Banks in Washington, DC and Delaware completely closed down for the duration of the actions, angering unwitting customers trying to do their banking on a busy holiday shopping weekend. Some said they were surprised and unhappy to discover that PNC was involved in financing mountaintop removal. In many cases, PNC branch managers accepted the toxic water samples, waited tolerantly while the activists had their say and then left without comment. In Harrisburg, the manager was asked if he would be sending a report to his superiors and if he thought they were getting EQAT’s message. “Oh, they are well aware, believe me,” he replied. That would appear to be the case; in a number of locations extra security guards were hired for the day.

Maybe PNC is beginning to agree with the Harrisburg Patriot-News, who called Earth Quaker Action Team a “multimillion-dollar threat” to PNC.

Amy Ward Brimmer is a founding member of Earth Quaker Action Team and served on its board prior to becoming Executive Director. She is a lifelong questioner of authority and has worked as a theater artist, writer, editor, and holistic health educator specializing in childbirth and mindful movement for everyday living. Find her on Twitter @mindfulactivist.