Funding for Dirty Energy and Emissions Casts Shadow on PNC Bank’s Green Image

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What if energy companies stopped engaging in destructive practices like mountaintop removal coal mining—not because of new government regulations, but simply because they couldn’t find a bank to finance such projects? That’s what the Rainforest Action Network and other groups hope might happen as they pressure banking giants to sever ties with dirty energy and emissions-causing activity. In the last couple years, banks have taken heat for financing everything from the destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests to Canadian tar sands development. But one of the longest running—and most effective—efforts has been a campaign to persuade banks not to fund mountaintop removal mining.

In an earlier post I wrote about how financial institutions from Bank of America to Wells Fargo are pulling their support for mountaintop removal—which involves blowing up Appalachian mountaintops to extract the last underground coal seams. Now environmental groups have taken aim at one of the few major lenders still willing to fund the practice: PNC Financial Services.

PNC is now the biggest US-based financial backer of mountaintop removal; according to the Rainforest Action Network, the bank has given more than $130 million to mountaintop removal companies. One of these companies is Massey Energy, a corporation notorious for its backward energy and emissions policies. In addition to running mountaintop removal operations in West Virginia and elsewhere, Massey also owns the underground coal mine where 29 workers were killed last April in what many consider to have been a preventable accident.

Despite PNC’s close ties to dirt energy and emissions projects, the bank has gone to great lengths to secure a reputation as an environmental leader. PNC’s main claim to green fame is its building policy—many of its branch buildings have been certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system. But how green can a bank building be when activities that go on inside it involve financing an unusually destructive form of coal mining? It’s great the PNC has designed energy-saving buildings. But like any large bank, its lending policies actually have a much bigger energy and emissions footprint than the buildings where these policies are approved.

To truly earn its green credentials, PNC should refuse to bankroll activities like mountaintop removal mining. By doing so sooner rather than later, the bank can keep from further damaging its public image, and become known as a true energy and emissions leader. With other major banks out of the way, the Rainforest Action Network and other NGOs are embarking on a public pressure campaign to end this bank’s support for mountaintop removal. Is it likely PNC can stand up to the kind of pressure that convinced Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and others to abandon Massey Energy and other mountaintop removal companies?

I personally very much doubt it. PNC should think about ditching mountaintop removal now, and saving itself from having to do public image damage control later on.

Article by Nick Engelfried, appearing courtesy Justmeans.

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