A combination of activism and economics is reducing the role big banks play in making mountaintop removal coal mining possible.
Update: Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club, and BankTrack released their latest Coal Finance Report Card, grading U.S. banks on their performance and policies related to coal-fired power and mountaintop removal coal mining. Read the Report Card here.
Pressuring large investment banks to stop financing mountaintop removal coal mining has been a strategy of the nationwide movement to end the destructive practice for years.
Judging by the progress made by Rainforest Action Network, and other grassroots groups such as Earth Quaker Action Team and Hands Off Appalachia targeting the infamous “too big to fails,” that strategy is working.
Yesterday, RAN shared the news that JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States, updated its position on mountaintop removal in its environmental policy report, indicating a further move away from financing mountaintop removal projects.
The bank’s announcement comes almost four years after a report by RAN, the Sierra Club and BankTrack revealed that JPMorgan, along with PNC and UBS, was a top financier of companies using mountaintop removal.
RAN’s Energy & Finance program director, Amanda Starbuck, wrote that, as the nation’s largest bank, JPMorgan Chase’s aversion to financing mountaintop removal projects should be an example to other major banks “that do not want to be singled out” for continuing to support the destruction of Appalachian mountains and streams. We’re looking at you, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup. Yes, you too, PNC and UBS.
According to JPMorgan Chase’s 2014 environmental policy report, the bank has reduced its exposure to companies engaged in mountaintop removal and expects that reduction to “exceed any decline in the
The policy report does not overlook the economic side of this environmental crime either, mentioning that “production from mountaintop mining has declined by close to 50 percent since 2008 due to market conditions, regulations, and concerns over environmental and human health impacts.”
Still, as recently as last year, JPMorgan Chase earned a D+ on RAN’s Coal Finance Report Card, which evaluates the largest U.S. banks based on their financing of mountaintop removal projects and companies that operate coal-fired power plants.
The report card’s authors wrote that JPMorgan Chase’s “enhanced diligence process” for mountaintop removal transactions “includes considerations of a company’s regulatory compliance history, exposure to future regulation, litigation risk, and operational performance related to valley fills and water quality issues.”
Overall, the bank ranked fourth among the 12 largest U.S. banks in involvement in mountaintop removal financing, committing $616.7 million in 2012 to companies including Alpha Natural Resources and TECO Energy, according to the Coal Finance Report Card.
In order to improve its grade, the RAN team wrote, JPMorgan should disclose details and “strengthen reporting on how it has implemented its enhanced diligence process for mountaintop removal transactions.”
Strong stances on mountaintop removal in the finance sector are not unprecedented. BNP Paribas, the fourth largest bank in the world by total assets, includes a mandatory requirement in its responsible investment policy to not invest in companies that use mountaintop removal.
Appalachian Voices congratulates RAN on the success of its campaign against America’s biggest banks and the pivotal role they play in making mountaintop removal possible. Learn more and take action here.