Last Friday found me up Kayford Mountain in West Virginia, gazing at a horrific Mountaintop Removal site and wishing that Ken Lewis, CEO of Bank of America, were by my side. I had just spent all of last week in the area, meeting with friends and allies, drinking in the incredible scenery, dodging coal trucks on narrow windy roads, seeing the scars where mountains used to stand and hearing outrageous stories about contaminated water from coal mining. It was a moving, inspiring and ultimately bizarre few days…because who do you think I ran into up that big ol’ mountain? None other than three of our friends from Bank of America.
What were they doing there you ask? Well apparently, they heard all the ruckus we’ve all been making – about Mountaintop Removal and the fact that their very own bank has been financing the practice to the hilt, and decided to come on down and check it out themselves. They were greeted by the famous Larry Gibson, an unbelievably charming gentleman who’s cabin is perched right up on top of Kayford on one of the last patches of un-blasted land. His family cemetery hasn’t been so lucky–it was blown up a few years ago by Massey Energy as they made their way down to a six inch seam of coal hundreds of feet below his family’s resting bones. Larry was joined by friends from Coal River Mountain Watch, Save Our Cumberland Mountains, Appalachian Voices and, of course, yours truly and our friends from NRDC who were accompanying Bank of America on the trip.
It was odd and not entirely comfortable seeing these city-bound bankers come face-to-face with the people who are impacted by their financing: the ex-union-coal-miner, the Appalachian women who are willing to do anything to protect their kin and just simply the people who live in the shadow of these threatened mountains, many of whom are sick and dying because of the way coal is being mined here. The bankers didn’t look at ease, but to their credit they were good sports – tramping out to the edge of the blast site in terrific heat, asking questions and generally gathering as many stories and facts as they could on their short visit. It wasn’t clear to me what exactly they intend to do with this information, nor what the next steps will be, but one thing became abundantly clear by the end of the trip—Bank of America is feeling pressure. As they were leaving, I thanked them for the effort they had made, and as one of them gripped my hand in the firmest handshake I’ve ever had…..she said calmly: “I believe you’re having a day of action against us today.”
Oh really? How awkward (I thought). What I said was, “it isn’t us.” Because, you see – it wasn’t. Sure, RAN launched a campaign against Bank of America last November, and it’s true that we’ve been working as hard as we can to convince them to stop financing coal. But it’s not just “us” who are keeping that pressure up. It’s all the hundreds of groups around the country who have taken on the campaign and are committed to seeing an end to coal financing. It’s all of you. So thank you. Because make no mistake – Bank of America flying over Appalachia is important – no bank has ever made this effort before, and it shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are impacted by the campaign we are all running to end MTR and dirty coal financing. It shows that all the hard work of our allies along with RAN is paying off, and it should inspire us to keep up the pressure.
And it shows that Bank of America has the integrity to investigate the impacts of their financing. It may be a small step, but it’s a very important one.
So Ken, if you’re listening? I missed you. We missed you. But don’t worry, if we have anything to do with it Kayford Mountain won’t be going anywhere, so you can come and visit. That’s a promise.