Bank of America to stop financing mountaintop removal

The energy and climate news is coming way too fast and furious for me to comment at length on every story. So here is everyone’s favorite WV reporter, Ken Ward Jr. on the story:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — One of the world’s largest financial institutions said this week it will phase out lending money to coal operators that use mountaintop removal mining.

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Charlotte-based Bank of America Corp. said it will stop financing companies that produce more than half of their coal from mountaintop removal.

“We feel the practice has a significant impact on the environment and on communities,” said company spokesman Ernesto Anguilla.

I’m glad they “feel” that way ’cause it is pretty darn obvious to just about everyone. Still, isn’t it great that the country’s biggest bank is secure enough in its sense of self-worth to share its feelings with us? But I digress:

Bank of America has provided financing for several major surface mine operators, including Massey Energy and International Coal Group, according to corporate financial disclosures. Bank officials announced their decision the same week that the Bush administration moved to finalize a rule that removes one potentially key legal hurdle for mountaintop removal.

The Bank of America move, announced Wednesday, was months in the making, and the result of lobbying by local citizen groups with the help of national organizations such as the Rainforest Action Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Rainforest Action has sponsored protests outside banking operations across the country, and the NRDC took banking executives on a flyover to see West Virginia mining operations from the air.

“This is a testament to the hard work of Appalachian communities and anti-coal activists across the country, whose collective pressure left Bank of America with little choice but to abandon its support for this barbaric form of resource extraction,” said Rebecca Tarbotton, director of Rainforest Action’s Global Finance Campaign, which since October 2007 has pressed Bank of America to cease financing of mountaintop removal mining and coal-fired power plants.

Rob Perks, director of advocacy campaigns for NRDC, said Bank of America’s “bold step forward sends an unequivocal signal to the mining industry that business as usual is no longer acceptable.

“Make no mistake, this is a big step from one of the nation’s biggest lenders,” Perks wrote on his group’s Switchboard blog. “And it marks a turning point in the campaign to end the war on Appalachia being waged by the coal industry.”

Carol Raulston, spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, said Bank or America had made an “unfortunate decision … without any consultation with mining companies that I am aware of.”

Raulston said the bank’s decision puts mountaintop removal operators in the same situation as consumers, small business and homebuyers who are having trouble borrowing money with today’s credit crunch. “I don’t believe B of A consulted them either,” she said.

Bank of America’s decision on mountaintop removal comes after the bank also joined with Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley in adopting plans to take climate-change risks into account when lending money.

The ultimate effect of Bank of America’s decision remains to be seen, said Dan Bakal, director of electric power programs with CERES, a group of investors, environmental groups and public interest organizations that pushes for sustainable financial practices.

“It definitely seems like a significant step, but it’s not going to completely change the landscape,” Bakal said Wednesday. “The key question is will other bankers follow suit, and if any significant number of them do, it could be a very big deal.”

Hmm. It’s “not going to completely change the landscape” — is that some sort of a mountaintop removal joke?

Kudos to BofA for finally getting this right.

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