Activists are drawing attention to PNC’s business relations with corporations that fund mountaintop removal coal mining
MEGAN SHERMAN, TRNN PRODUCER: Saturday, December 6, was a national day of action for activists from the Philadelphia-based Quaker group EQAT, who were protesting PNC Bank’s role in mountaintop removal coal mining. There were demonstrations in 26 cities across the country, such as Miami, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. In Baltimore, demonstrators held actions at the Mount Washington PNC Bank where two dozen protesters occupied the bank location and held a prayer circle.
TRACEY WAITE, EQAT ORGANIZER: What’s happening behind me is a group of Quakers and some other individuals who are opposed to mountaintop removal coal mining are here protesting in a PNC Bank. We’ve chosen to gather here at PNC because this is one of the largest funders, this bank is one of the largest funders of mountaintop removal coal mining in the United States.
SHERMAN: Activists argue that PNC’s relationship to these corporations contradicts their claims of being a green bank, as the practice of mountaintop removal destroys the entire mountain and is harmful to those who live in the surrounding areas.
The Real News contacted PNC Bank, but a spokesperson declined to comment for this story. While some activists participated in the prayer circle, others stood outside, passing out flyers and pamphlets to inform customers about the bank’s lending practices.
Tracy Waite, an organizer with EQUATE, spoke about why the group is targeting PNC and the effects of mountaintop removal on the environment.
WAITE: We’re targeting PNC Bank because they have Quaker roots, and also because they are known as the Quaker bank. They advertise themselves as a green bank. And we want to bring forth the hypocrisy of calling yourself a green bank, and then at the same time financing mountaintop removal.
Mountaintop removal has a devastating impact on the environment. The tops of the mountains are literally blasted apart, and all of that rubble is pushed off the top of the mountains. It then goes down and fills valleys, and it fills and covers streams. And so a lot of heavy metals end up leaching into the water supply. And we find contamination far downstream, contaminating drinking water, and making areas largely uninhabitable.
SHERMAN: A 2014 investigation by the chemical and engineering news found that the dust and particles from detonating mountains can be linked to lung cancer, and also the sediment transferred to rivers and streams is connected to poor water quality.
Other investigations reveal that areas where mountaintop removal takes place have higher mortality rates than those that practice alternative means of extracting coal.
Rich Lewis describes the impact on health outcomes and the nationwide impact of coal extraction.
RICH LEWIS, DEMONSTRATOR: Our own corporations are doing this, and our own banks are financing this. But if al-Qaeda or ISIS had done this, there would be more moral outrage in our country. But yet we’re doing this to ourselves. Rates of asthma are up in our country like crazy. When I was a kid growing up, nobody had asthma. Where’s that asthma coming from? It’s coming from air pollution. It’s coming from particulates. The people that live in this area and the dust that’s coming through here from this type of activity is affecting all of us, our health. And, I mean, are we looking ahead for our country, where are we going to be in another 50 years if we keep doing this?
SHERMAN: Many of the places where this form of coal removal was prevalent have increased levels of unemployment, which contradicts the belief that the industry provides jobs. A 2006 study done by the Federal Energy Information Administration reported that between 1973 in 2003, called production fell by almost 7 percent, and employment in those regions fell by over 43 percent.
Chris McCormack talks about the effects that the mountaintop coal mining industry has on residents who work in the mines.
CHRIS MCCORMICK, DEMONSTRATOR: We get our energy from these mountains, and people seem to use it like it’s no big deal, it’s just available forever. But it’s not. And people don’t seem to look at these upopulations and see what it’s doing to them. They work in terrible conditions. They work in creating destruction. And you know what that does to a person’s psyche. It does not–you know, there are people that are social workers. They go out helping people. That makes a person feel better about themselves. These people don’t have a choice. They can’t be a social worker, ’cause that job does not exist. So these people have to do this instead. It keeps people in poverty.
SHERMAN: Nationwide, activists are educating the public about the practices of banks like PNC and encouraging them to divest from mountaintop removal. Tracy Weight talks about what she and others hope to achieve by staging protests and acts of civil disobedience.
WAITE: This is part of a campaign called Bank Like Appalachia Matters. But there are other components to the project. We’re asking people to move their money and to find other banks to do their banking in. We are also doing things like getting in contact with board members and the leadership of the bank and to talk with them directly about our concerns and what we’re seeking to have them do.
SHERMAN: This is Megan Sherman reporting with The Real News Network.
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