Three years after PNC quietly announced it was curtailing its investments in an especially destructive form of strip-mining, environmental groups say the bank’s still doing business as usual. And this morning, one such group voiced its displeasure with a two-pronged protest at the banking giant’s annual shareholders meeting, held Downtown.
At 10:30 a.m., some 40 protestors from groups including the Philadelphia-based Earth Quaker Action Team held signs, sang songs and leafleted both passersby and business-suited shareholders arriving at the meeting. Meanwhile, inside the August Wilson Center, said Earth Quaker spokesman Zachary Hershman, as many as 17 shareholders who were also protestors made their case directly to the PNC board of directors and other shareholders.
In mountaintop-removal coal-mining, the peaks of mountains are blasted away to get at the coal inside, and the rubble is shoved into nearby valleys. The process, especially common in states including West Virginia, turns forests into wasteland, pollutes hundreds of miles of streams, and causes sickness for neighbors, including increased incidence of cancer and birth defects. Mountaintop-removal produces 10 percent or less of the coal mined in the U.S., but a third or more of the coal mined in West Virginia.
Protesters’ props included a five-gallon container filled with rust-colored water, matching the water depicted in poster-sized photos of a sink and a drainage pipe in mountaintop-removal country.
“I live right down in it,” said protester Adam Hall, of Coal River Valley in southern West Virginia. Hall, who drove six hours to attend the protest here, said he lives 6 miles from a mountaintop-removal site and hears “a big bomb go off” daily, because of the blasting.
Hall, who works with the grassroots groups Coal River Mountain Watch and Mountain Keepers, says coal companies have brought poor health and economic despair to the region. “They have a choice,” he said of PNC. “They can hold their money out of funding mountaintop-removal coal mining or they can not. But that blood’s on their hands.”
Mountaintop-removal is “a human rights and a health issue,” said EQAT’s Hershman.
Reached for comment on today’s protest, PNC spokesperson Marcey Zwiebel said the bank doesn’t comment on the actions of third parties.
PNC has been targeted by mountaintop-removal protesters since at least 2009. Still, such protests might seem jarring to city-dwellers familiar only with PNC’s highly touted efforts to construct and renovate “green” buildings that use less energy, water and other resources. The company calls itself “A Leader In Eco-Friendly Development."
But as long as the bank backs fossil-fuel companies, says Hershman, it will be guilty of “greenwashing.”
“To promote themselves as a green bank when their investments are the opposite, as people of conscience we can’t really abide by that,” said Hershman at this morning’s protest. “A green building doesn’t mean anything to people who are living in actual mining communities.”
At the protest, activists handed arriving shareholders an ersatz ballot which asked whether PNC should end all investments in coal companies that practice mountaintop-removal mining. Inside, Hershman said, activist shareholders gave mock awards for “malfeasance and environmental destruction” to outgoing board chair James Rohr and incoming chair William S. Demchak.
The activists also told the other shareholders and board members that disinvestment campaigns have resulted in the withdrawal of some $3 million in deposits from PNC, said Hershman this afternoon, after the protest.
He added that PNC officials sped up the meeting to discourage comment or discussion of the issue. “They hustled all the shareholders out,” he told CP. But, he adds, activists believe their point was made: “When we left we got a handful of thumbs-ups” from other shareholders.
Great, said activists — except that those restrictions didn’t seem to apply to any investments PNC had actually made. Since adopting the policy, according to the Rainforest Action Network’s 2012 Coal Finance Report Card, PNC “has continued to do business with most of the largest MTR companies and has exposure to more than 43 percent of the MTR coal mined in Appalachia in 2011, more than any other bank except for Bank of America.”
And last May, activists from the Earth Quakers and other groups walked from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to protest PNC’s continued investment.
In its Corporate Responsibility Statement, PNC “acknowledges the concerns that have been raised about the environmental and community impacts associated with extraction of fossil fuels, including … the surface mining practice known as mountaintop removal (MTR),” but says, “PNC expects to continue to fund businesses that rely on extracting coal and natural gas, many of which play important roles in the communities where we