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Environmental activists from West Virginia on Wednesday delivered more than 1,000 gallons of bottled water to residents of Detroit, where more than 15,000 of the city’s poorest people have had their water shut off — often for being unable to pay their bill — part of austerity measures imposed on the bankrupt city.
Bill DePaulo, with Keeper of the Mountains Foundation, drove a U-Haul truck to carry 1,080 gallons of water paid for by donations from West Virginians. He arrived on Wednesday morning at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, one of four water distribution centers in the city, giving out about 300 gallons in just a few hours.
“I just thought there’s something we can do here, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t do it,” DePaulo told Al Jazeera as he was traveling Tuesday, along with the president of the group, Paul Brown.
DePaulo said the water would be enough to meet the needs of 200 people for about two days. Each bottle cost about 75 cents.
West Virginia recently suffered its own water woes, with 300,000 people in its capital, Charleston, and surrounding areas told not to drink their water for several days after a January coal processing chemical spill. Months after the ban was lifted, many still don’t drink from their taps. DePaulo said he takes showers and washes clothes and dishes with the water but won’t drink it.
During the height of that water crisis, Keeper of the Mountains brought water to people in remote areas around Charleston, often deep in valleys where coal mining pollution had already ruined ground water.
Motor City locals welcomed DePaulo’s delivery.
“To come from West Virginia and to drive a truck with tons of water in it and to come up here and help folks is a pure act of love and solidarity,” said Detroit community activist Maureen Taylor. “This is what America is. This is what we are.”
The Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman of St. Peter’s Episcopal said people who stopped by the church to pick up bottles were also grateful, though he declined to refer Al Jazeera to the people receiving free water, saying protecting their privacy is important.
The donation this week is not the first time activists have shown up in Detroit bearing water. A Canadian group arrived in early July with 750 gallons, according to USA Today.
In Detroit, water shutoffs are one element of a push to balance the books of the city’s water company, part of Detroit’s ongoing bankruptcy proceedings. The bankruptcy, announced last year, was a long time coming. The struggling auto industry has left Detroit with grinding poverty and crumbling infrastructure.
DePaulo’s trip comes just a day after the city’s Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr handed over control of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) to the mayor, Mike Duggan. Orr is responsible for restructuring how the city operates to put it back in the black.
The DWSD, which services Detroit and large swaths of southeastern Michigan, is about $6 billion in debt.
In Detroit, there are about 92,000 past-due bills, amounting to $89 million. The water shutoffs started in March, and by mid-June more than 7,200 customers had been cut off by the DWSD. Fearing the loss of access to water, many customers scrambled to pay their bills, pushing the department’s revenue to $800,000 last month, up from $150,000 at the same time in 2013.
In July, following vocal public criticism — including from the United Nations — and a scolding by a federal judge overseeing the city’s bankruptcy, Duggan promised to scale back the shutoffs, imposing a moratorium set to expire Aug. 6. Saying Detroiters must pay their water bills, the mayor has also promised to make setting up a payment plan easier.
To Wylie-Kellerman, the transfer to Duggan is simply cosmetic, as Orr, appointed by Michigan’s governor in 2013, still wields the real power. Wylie-Kellerman says the mayor has done nothing to make sure water is more affordable.
“The emergency manager and the mayor have been working hand in glove all along. The mayor doesn’t have any power that the emergency manager doesn’t grant him. It’s a fake appearance of a fresh start.”
DePaulo says he sees his venture not just as an opportunity for solidarity but also as a way to deal with what he says is “political incompetence.”
“Somebody made the decision here that ‘We’re going to cut off water to tens of thousands of people in the summer,’” he said of Detroit. In West Virginia, DePaulo said the spill was the result of decades of neglect on the part of state regulators.
Brown echoed DePaulo’s sentiment in a news release.
“West Virginians know what it means to lose access to clean water, and we want to show our solidarity with the citizens of Detroit who have lost access to any water,” he said.
“This may be literally a drop in a very empty bucket. But if it encourages others — particularly those in the better-off suburbs of Detroit — to do the same thing, those drops can turn into a river of desperately needed help.”
Wylie-Kellerman said that cooperation between neighbors is the only way some people are getting by without water. Detroiters, he said, have gotten creative, finding ways to let others in their communities have access to the life-sustaining liquid.
“I hear instances where people have been without water for weeks, and their neighbors are running hoses into the window of a next-door neighbor,” Wylie-Kellerman said.
The water shutoffs pose a severe health risk to the most vulnerable, the very young and very old, he said. Without water, people can’t flush their toilets, for example, creating sanitation and public health issues.
“If you have an infant and no running water, it’s extremely grave,” he said. “For folks with disabilities, there’s innumerable health consequences.”
CHARLESTON — Paul Corbit Brown spelled out to lawmakers this spring what he said were the negative effects of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia: shattered mountains, polluted streams, and the jeopardized health of those who live near the blasting.
He and others with the group Keeper of the Mountains passed out two-dozen peer-reviewed articles backing up their claims to nearly every West Virginia legislator, hoping that some would at least acknowledge the group’s efforts. Not one legislator responded, Brown said.
As pressure mounts to respond to climate change, Keeper of the Mountains and other groups are finding it easier to work outside the halls of government than within them. One tactic, fossil fuel divestment, has gained traction, but it remains to be seen if this movement will eventually end coal mining.
“If we can’t seem to find a way to compel our government to do the right thing, the next thing we have to do is go after the funding for it,” Brown said.
Brown’s group, along with the San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network, have started an aggressive campaign to compel banks to stop financing mountaintop removal projects. The collaboration, organizers said, has been met with some success over the last two years.
The Rainforest Action Network releases a report each year evaluating how banks finance mountaintop removal projects and coal-fired power plants. This year, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase both got B’s in the mountaintop removal category.
JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, which had provided $172 million and $81 million in financing respectively for mountaintop removal in 2013, according to the report, have since announced that they would phase out financing for mountaintop removal.
Two European banks, Royal Bank of Scotland and BNP Paribas, have said that they would no longer finance mountaintop removal projects.
“Depending on where they put their money, they can choose to be funding things that are very good for the environment, or funding things that are very destructive,” said Amanda Starbuck, the energy and finance program director for the Rainforest Action Network. “It’s a fundamental choice they have.”
The report also found that as of April, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and BNP Paribas had cut off mountaintop removal funding for Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal, two of the largest mountaintop removal producers.
But as some banks cut off funding, Barclays has increased financing for mountaintop removal, giving out $550 million in loan and bond transactions in 2013, according to the report.
Christine Risch, Director of Resource and Energy Economics at Marshall University’s Center for Business and Economic Research, said that many coal companies invested in Central Appalachian coal production are already facing financial problems, but not necessarily because of divestment efforts.
“Global demand for coal is up, but it is expensive to mine coal in central Appalachia, leading many producers to diversify and invest in other regions and other commodities,” Risch said.
She continued: “Central Appalachian coal production is expected to decline faster than other areas.” For example, “Wyoming coal production is not expected to decline.”
Growing costs and unforeseen risks associated with mining—for example, Alpha Natural Resources’ $227.5 million settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2013 for polluting water—could cause banks to rethink lending to coal companies for certain projects, Risch said.
“Banks focus on return on investment more than anything,” she said. “They’re going to do due diligence on whether a loan is going to meet their criteria for return.”
Divestment efforts aren’t just focused on mountaintop removal, and environmentalists have also targeted organizations’ pension funds and endowments. University student groups across the country are pressuring trustees to rid their endowments of anything to do with fossil fuels.
In May, Stanford University announced that it would shed stocks in coal mining companies from its $18.7 billion endowment portfolio. A debate is raging at Harvard University about whether trustees should do the same.
At Washington University in St. Louis, one student group is just trying to get its foot in the door to be part of the debate.
Caroline Burney, a Washington University graduate and former member of the group Students Against Peabody Energy, said that divestment talk at the school has sputtered over the last year. But she said that’s not to say there isn’t enthusiasm about bringing attention to climate change at the university.
“We had the student support, we had the student power, but nothing was really changing,” Burney said. “There was this sort of frustration from students that we wanted to have a voice and we wanted to have a real impact on the world.”
From those discussions, students staged a 17-day sit-in this spring, calling attention to Washington University’s ties with Peabody Energy CEO Greg Boyce, who is on the school’s Board of Trustees.
Students demanded he resign and wanted a stronger voice in the university’s decision-making process, Burney said.
After the sit-in fizzled out, seven students were arrested in May for trying to deliver a note to Boyce at the Board of Trustees meeting. That same month, 11 protesters, including Burney, were arrested outside the Ritz-Carlton in St. Louis at Peabody’s annual shareholders meeting.
The Unitarian Universalist Church has also thrown its support behind fossil fuel divestment. In June, members of the church’s General Assembly voted to divest from fossil fuel over the next five years.
In a twist from similar campaigns, though, the General Assembly voted to keep a nominal amount of stock in fossil fuel companies, so that they could still attend shareholders meetings to voice concerns.
But Stratford Douglas, an associate professor of economics at WVU, said that even if groups buy or keep stock to voice concerns at meetings, it probably won’t have much of an impact.
“A coal company isn’t going to quit producing coal because their shareholders don’t want them to,” he said.
The Unitarian Universalist Church’s move might not have a lasting financial impact on companies—only 2.9 percent of the church’s endowment is invested in fossil fuels—but it created a media stir, with publications from the Huffington Post to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publishing articles.
“We voted to align our assets with our values,” said Patricia Link, treasurer of Charleston’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Kanawha Boulevard. “And that resolution took a stand to do just that.”
Douglas said that today’s fossil fuel divestment campaigns draw parallels to similar protests against South African apartheid in the 1980s. He said that divestment then had little impact on company stock prices, but, “as a statement of protest, it was pretty effective.”
Researchers at the University of Oxford released a study last year forecasting the effect to fossil fuel companies from divestment campaigns.
They found that if an organization drops oil or gas stock, the company probably wouldn’t be dramatically affected because daily stock prices fluctuate anyway; a neutral investor would likely buy the stock an organization sells. Coal companies, though, with less liquid assets, could face more problems, according to the report.
The report found that a major threat coal companies could face from divestment campaigns is a greater “stigmatization” of the industry.
The immediate financial impact from divestment campaigns might not be by itself destabilizing, but Burney, who was arrested at Peabody’s shareholders meeting, and others said they would continue working against the fossil fuel industry.
“I wanted to be arrested out of the belief that this is a cause I really believe in,” Burney said. “It was to take that bigger step and show Peabody and other people that this is something that people are really, really concerned about.”
Reach Jack Suntrup at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5100 or follow @JackSuntrup on Twitter.
Mountain Top Removal mining has devastated many of the forests of Appalachia (photo: Paul Corbit Brown, Rainforest Action Network)
Coal companies have stripped the tops of mountains in Appalachia in search of the fuel. But as Amanda Starbuck tells host Steve Curwood, the Rainforest Action Network has helped convince some of the world’s biggest banks to stop funding companies that practice destructive Mountain Top Removal.
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. The coal industry is under fire in the US from several directions, ranging from calls to pull investments from fossil fuels to proposed federal regulations to limit global warming emissions from power plants. And now, in the face of pressure from activists, banks have stepped into the fray. Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase are among major banks that have pledged to stop lending to finance the ecologically destructive mining technique known as “mountaintop removal”. The activists include the Rainforest Action Network, and as their campaigner Amanda Starbuck explains, mountaintop removal has devastated Appalachia for years.
STARBUCK: Mountaintop removal coal mining is one of the most destructive forms of coal mining that is practiced in the United States, and it mostly takes place in Appalachia, the Southeast US. The general topography in that region is rolling peaks, high mountaintops, steep valleys…you can stand on top of a viewpoint and these go on as far as the eye can see. It’s really quite beautiful but when this type of coal mining takes place the coal company will first of all come along and clearcut all the forests off the top of the mountains. These are the most diverse forests in the United States, so right there there’s a huge ecosystem loss. Next, they will lay explosives and blast away the top of the mountains, and the reason that they do that is to expose these thin narrow seams of coal, and then the coal gets transported for use in coal fired power plants.
CURWOOD: Now what happens next in this process?
STARBUCK: Well, the next bit is in many ways as horrific as the removal of the peaks themselves. All the rubble that’s left, so this is rocks that are not coal and that contains things like heavy metals, pretty toxic substances like mercury, this gets swept off the new top of the mountain which can be 200 or 500 feet lower than once was into the neighboring valley. So effectively where you once had high peaks and low valleys, you have a more leveled out surface; instead of beautiful forests and streams it’s exposed rubble and waste.
CURWOOD: So Rainforest Action decided to work on this a few years ago. Why did you decide to go after the banks that fund mountaintop removal rather that go after the companies themselves?
STARBUCK: We decided to focus on banks because banks have a lot of options where they invest the money. We’d been tracking where the mountaintop removal mining companies get their financing from and through some fairly straightforward research we discovered that all of the major US banks and most of the major European banks too were lending these mining companies the money they needed to expand mines, buy the machinery and continue to grow this practice. So it became clear to us that if we could ask banks not to lend that money we could cut off a really important component that was going into mountaintop removal mining.
CURWOOD: Now, a number of major banks have agreed to stop funding coal companies that engage in mountaintop removal. Which banks have signed on?
STARBUCK: Most recently, two of the largest US banks, Wells Fargo and J.P. Morgan Chase, have stopped doing business with the biggest mountaintop removal coal mining companies and they’ve been joined by a couple of the largest European banks, Royal Bank of Scotland and BNP Paribas, a French bank which is also in the states as Bank of the West.
CURWOOD: Who are the big players that are still supporting mountaintop removal?
STARBUCK: So we still have a ways to go. There still a number of US banks continuing to loan to this sectior, in particular, PNC Bank, also Citibank and Morgan Stanley, but Barclays Bank, which is a London-based bank, is the largest financer of mountaintop removal, so we’re calling on Barclays to follow their competitors and stop funding mountaintop removal.
CURWOOD: Now why would banks agree to stop funding mountaintop removal? Um, they see this as a moral issue or good business?
STARBUCK: Over the last 10 years we’ve noticed that banks are increasingly sensitive to environmental issues and there’s a number of reasons. The people that work at banks, they’re just like us, they have families, they care about the impact of their work, what that means future generations. So there’s a part of it to do the right thing there, but at the same time, banks are fundamentally tasked with maximizing profits and making money, and anyone’s that’s taking a hard look at the coal industry right now would be really concerned about their ability to continue to turn profits. We’re burning less coal in the United States, so there’s less business for the industry, but also we’re starting to see that that government is really starting to tighten up on regulating this industry, so the liability risk for the mountaintop removal from coal mining companies – this is looking pretty bad right now.
I think one more critically important factor is that there’s been a huge upswelling of grassroots power, people power, speaking out about mountaintop removal and saying, “This is immoral. It can’t continue.” We’re seeing tens of thousands of people in Appalachia stand up and speak out, rally, draw attention to this issue, and we’ve seen a huge swell of public pressure on the banks to get away from this as well.
CURWOOD: By the way, Rainforest Action, well, from your name we would think you’d be involved in places like Central Africa and the Amazon. Why mountaintop removal?
STARBUCK: That’s right…that’s such a good question! Rainforest Action Network fundamentally exists to protect forests and forest inhabitants, and for 30 years we’ve done a lot of work focused on forest protection but about 15 years ago we had the realization that we could protect all the acres of rainforests that were possible to protect, but if we didn’t solve climate change ultimately those forests were not going to survive.
So if your concern is rainforests, or really whatever your environmental issue is, addressing climate change is absolutely a core component of winning that fight. And we know that if we’re going to address climate change we need to do two things: one of them is to address the most polluting forms of energy and stop things like mountaintop removal – mining or the buildout of the fossil fuel export infrastructure. And at the same time we need a huge growth in our clean renewable energy sector. So moving forward we’re challenging everyone…that’s banks and energy generators to shift to clean renewable energy and we’re very committed to that vision.
CURWOOD: Amanda Starbuck is the Energy and Finance Director for the Rainforest Action Network. Thanks again for taking the time today, Amanda.
STARBUCK: Thank you for inviting me onto the show.
CURWOOD: We called up the banks Miss Starbuck named as the holdouts. Barclays corporate Spokesman Mark Lane wrote, in part, that:
“…we have not provided finance to any entity for the specific purpose of mountaintop removal.”
We’ve posted Barclays full comments at our website LOE.org.
A spokeswoman for PNC bank said they don’t discuss or comment on their actions with third parties, and by our air date, we had had no response from CitiBank, or Morgan Stanley.
Statement from Barclays Bank:
Barclays is aware of the sensitivities around the practice of mountain-top removal. This is specifically highlighted in our guidance to the business with reference to the mining sector and we have not provided finance to any entity for the specific purpose of mountain top removal.
We have environmental lending policies and practices that have been in place for many years in support of our commitment to understanding the environmental and social risks associated with our lending activities. We aim always to take a responsible approach and give careful consideration to such impacts before decisions are approved. When we are asked to finance a specific development project, we apply the Equator Principles – detailed environmental and social criteria applicable to project finance transactions covering issues including local community consultation, the impact on indigenous peoples and cultural heritage sites, relocation of communities and related compensation. This approach to responsible lending applies equally to clients in the coal mining sector as to other industrial sectors.
We have met recently with groups that are critical of mountaintop removal mining so that we can learn more about their concerns.
Last week Paul Corbit Brown, the President of Keeper of the Mountains Foundation, this speech in Basel, Switzerland. Nearly 2,000 shareholders and the board of directors of UBS, a major Swiss bank that is a big financier of Mountaintop Removal mining, heard what their profits are doing to central Appalachian mountains & communities. Read his full speech below, and donate to support his 6 week divestment tour here : https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/divestmtr2014
“Good Morning. My name is Paul Corbit Brown and I am president of the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation. I have traveled thousands of kilometers to come to you today from the heart of the Appalachian mountains. Our mountains are among the oldest and most bio-diverse ecosystems in the world. They are home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which exist nowhere else in the world. They are also home to another very special species- the humans that have been living here for many generations.
Today, all these species are suffering as a result of Mountaintop Removal coal mining.This violent form of mining literally blasts the entire tops from the mountains, pushes the resulting debris into nearby valleys and fills our air, soil and water with deadly toxins. It looks like this:
Mr. Ermotti, you just stated that no amount of profit is worth the reputation of your bank. I am here today because UBS continues to be among the top financiers of companies practicing Mountaintop Removal coal.
Coal mined in this way might provide electricity for a few moments, but the damage that remains is forever. Can you imagine someone doing this to Matterhorn?
Imagine, a company coming to your country, destroying your precious mountains, making their profit and then leaving you with a toxic wasteland forever. I’ll give you a moment to ponder this.
Some of you might recall that I came to speak with you last year about this very same problem. It’s not just the loss of the mountains. This industry is taking our lives as well. We are suffering from heart, liver, and lung disease; cancer, and dramatic increases in birth defects. In the 12 short months since we last met, it is estimated that 4,000 of my people have died due to their exposure to coal toxins, many of them released into our environment as a result of Mountaintop Removal. Think about that…there are nearly 2,000 people in this room. That means that for every person attending this meeting today, two of my people died last year. This happens year after year and there are now more than 25 peer reviewed scientific studies that attest to these facts.
It has been said that the death of 1 is a tragedy and the death of thousands is a statistic. I can assure you that watching my own mother suffering through cancer or my father struggling for his next breath is more than just a statistic to me. In fact, nearly every family I know is dealing with this sorrow. So, while you may have little concern for flying squirrels, barred owls, spotted newts, or even the mountains of Appalachia, I wonder how many of you have the stomach to know that your bank is continuing to lend money to companies that are poisoning our water and ruining our health?
UBS claims to have a system to screen out environmentally destructive clients and claims not to “directly finance” mountaintop removal mining. But last May, UBS participated in a loan transaction with Alpha Natural Resources, the #1 producer of MTR coal. Earlier this year, Alpha received the largest water pollution penalty in the history of the U.S. Clean Water Act. If UBS’s environmental standards are low enough to pass Alpha Natural Resources, your standards are meaningless.
Even the CEO of Patriot Coal, the #2 producer of Mountaintop removal coal has agreed to phase out Mountaintop removal operations and admitted that the practice is both environmentally destructive and increasingly unprofitable. And yet, UBS was one of only two banks that participated in the refinancing of a revolving loan to James River Coal, a struggling Mountaintop removal producer in January 2014. In April, James River filed for bankruptcy..
You may continue to insist that you don’t lend money to “Mountaintop removal projects”, but the truth is Mountaintop removal is not financed by project loans. It is financed by the general corporate loans you so generously provide to Alpha Natural Resources and other Mountaintop Removal coal producers.
Let’s just for one moment contrast your behavior with banks like BNP Paribas, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and UniCredit. These banks have put policies in place that stop ALL financing for companies engaged in mountaintop removal.
Did these investments add pennies to your dividend? I don’t know, but I do know that they are taking years from the lives of countless families in Appalachia. In a country like Switzerland, known for its love of the mountains and its commitment to human rights, you should be ashamed of your continued involvement with these companies in any form.
I am here to insist that UBS stop shutting its eyes to the health crisis in Appalachia or hiding behind my own government’s failings to protect us. As with other crimes throughout time, history will take a dim view of those who chose quick profit over the well-being of their planet and basic rights of their fellow human beings by continuing to support practices such as Mountaintop Removal.
My questions to the board are this:
1) This is water that comes out of our kitchen taps. Would you want to bathe your children in this water? Do you think it is ethical for you to continue financing companies that do this (I show a picture of black water) to our water supplies?
2) UBS prides itself on its human rights policy. Your Environmental and Human Rights Policy states that the bank has set ‘do no harm’ standards for its investments and financing transactions with respect to human rights and environmental impacts. Are you aware that last May, a delegation from the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, called for investigations into reported violations of the right to health and water by MTR operations in Appalachia? How long will UBS continue to offer financial services to companies involved in blatant human rights violations?
3) It is appropriate here to contrast the behavior of UBS with banks like BNP Paribas, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo, who are no longer financing companies like Arch Coal because they see Mountaintop Removal as unethical. Even the CEO of Patriot Coal, the #2 producer of MTR, has agreed to phase out MTR operations and admitted that the practice is both environmentally destructive and increasingly unprofitable. Will UBScontinue to pick up business that its competitors deem unethical?
4) Will you continue to believe weak laws and lack of government protection in another country absolve you of guilt for enabling environmental destruction and human rights violations by sustaining them financially?
I am asking the notary to include a copy of the summaries of the 25 health studies I mentioned, as well as my contact information, in the record of this meeting in order that all your board and shareholders can be sure they are not acting ill-advised.
Mr. Chairman, you said it was of utmost importance that your bank shed light on its problems and then address them quickly and appropriately. I pray that you make the right choice as the future of our mountains and the health of our communities depends on it.
In the coming weeks our President will continue to confront some of the most profitable global investors about mountaintop removal. Donate to support his 6 week divestment tour here : https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/divestmtr2014
PLEASE CONSIDER A DONATION TODAY TO SUPPORT OUR DIVESTMENT WORK!
I’ve had an exciting first week here as I set out for the second time to travel to annual shareholder meetings of major European banks and energy companies that are a very real part of the network that continues to finance and support the coal industry in general and practitioners of MTR in particular. My first stop was at the RWE shareholder meeting in Essen, Germany. RWE is a major player in the production and distribution of electricity in Europe. They are also a major German importer of coal produced from MTR in WV. I was encouraged to learn that they lost €2.8 billion last year and they continue to flounder because of the rapidly growing renewables market and the pressure brought to bear on them from human rights activists from many countries where they source their dirty coal.
I am now in Bosnia where I have been meeting with a student group, community organizers, environmental activists and concerned citizens. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to share our stories with them and to hear how eager they are to offer their help to us. Having suffered dramatically from years of violence, they understand all-too-well how our actions and inactions have a profound impact on other folks-even those half way around he world.
My next stop will be in London where I will speak at the annual shareholder meeting of the Barclays Bank. Barclays was the top financier of companies that engage in MTR coal mining in 2013 – The bank provided $550 million in loan and bond financing for MTR in 2013, more than any other bank in the world.
The bank’s environmental and social risk management system is broken – The bank claims to have a system to screen out environmentally destructive clients and projects. But last December, Barclays was the lead bank for a bond offering for Alpha Natural Resources, the #1 producer of MTR coal, in which the bank underwrote $96 million for the company. Less than four months later, Alpha received the largest water pollution penalty in the history of the U.S. Clean Water Act. If Barclays’s environmental standards are low enough to pass Alpha Natural Resources, they’re meaningless.
Banking MTR coal producers violates Barclays’s human rights commitment – Last May, a delegation from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, called for investigations into potential violations of the right to water and right to housing by MTR operations in Appalachia. Barclays’s human rights policy states: “Where we discover, or are made aware, that we have been associated with human rights violations we shall take steps to remedy the situation, taking account of the interests of those whose rights are being violated.” Even after the UN flagged MTR as a human rights violation, the bank continues to finance MTR producers.
The coal industry could not do its dirty work without the help of banks like Barclays. They need to be aware of the true depths of their contribution to the destruction of communities surrounded by MTR. They and their shareholders need to hear that no government, no industry, no corporation, no individual has the ethical right to profit from the sickness and death of a single human being.
I continue to strive to educate folks that corporations are composed of individual people. They make decisions to support these corporations and the activities in which they are involved. As more folks come to understand their individual power, we can exercise our collective power to reshape our behaviors. Remember, no single drop of water believes it is responsible for the flood. We simply must understand the ways our individual actions help shape the big picture, and we must learn to demand that profit can only be born from ethical and just practices.
In solidarity and with a great hope for our future,
While the area around Charleston, West Virginia recovers from a chemical leak that shut down water supplies for a week, with ongoing concerns about water safety, another part of the state hasn’t had clean water for five months. It hasn’t made a lot of headlines, but then again the town of Bud (population 487) rarely does.
Pulling into town it’s impossible to miss the Coal Miners Memorial dedicated to the men who lost their lives supporting their families and providing coal to the rest of the world.
With a legacy like that, the people of Bud are used to a bit of hardship, and they have a culture of helping their neighbors too. It’s a good thing too, because sometimes the system that’s set up to provide them their most basic needs, like clean water, just isn’t up to the task.
Bud’s family-owned water treatment plant, Alpoca Water Works, has maintained a boiled water advisory since last September. Spokesperson Rhesa Shrewsbury (daughter of owner Patsky McKinney) told West Virginia Public Broadcasting that problems started when the company “lost” its water operator.
Local school Herndon Consolidated has been particularly hard hit by the crisis.
After months of asking the school board for bottled water and watching while 250 families went without clean water, the school’s new principal, Virginia Lusk, reached out to a Charleston organization to see if they could help — and that’s why we were there.
The school’s drinking fountains are covered with garbage bags, taped to the metal, reminding students the water is unsafe to drink.
While we’re there, one local resident stops by to pick up some bottled water, hoping to get some of the 300 gallons sent by a North Carolina church that day before they’re gone.
The water in the toilets is a dark, coffee colored brown, and we remove the tank in back to see what’s coming in. It’s not pretty.
The principal is quick to point out that the problem is “no one’s fault,” but that doesn’t get the water flowing.
Our guide promises her that he’ll do what he can to get water trucked down here, nearly two hours from Charleston, and the principal is grateful. She’s concerned about causing friction and says she walked into the problem when she assumed the job last fall. “It’s like I inherited a baby T-Rex,” she says.
Shrewsbury says that the eastern part of the county is stepping in to buy and operate the water plant. “They’ve been working on the water since a couple weeks before Christmas and they say it’s still going to take a couple more weeks.”
The plant is on a hill outside of town, up a steep muddy hill behind posted signs and a handwritten warning that says, “You will be arrested.”
For now….and for the last five months…not only the school but also the many families who live in this community. The only way you can brush your teeth is with bottled water.
Do you want to put your body parts into a bathtub of that water? But what choice do you have really? Would you wash your dishes in it? What choice do you have?
What do you think it would do to your child’s hair? What if you had an elderly mother who forgets she is not supposed to drink the water?
What if you had to decide whether you can buy your child new winter boots or buy umpteen bottles or gallons of water? What choice do you have? You can’t survive without water, which the company is still collecting money for, by the way.
What will you do if disease strikes this community from bacteria in the water? I think you will find out the true meaning of “complicated” then. No one should rest a day while this situation is ongoing. Work out the issues TODAY.. hire a water operator TODAY! Just do it! And by the way, no one in this community has been offered one bottle of water by any agency or group….just sayin.
Even though the water is only good for flushing toilets, residents of Bud and Alpoca say they have continued to pay monthly bills to the utility company.
We part ways and our guide tells us that the people here will do what they’ve always done: rely on each other and hope for the best.
By Paul Corbit Brown
I spent most of the day today with Maria Gunnoe, Tandi Stephens and David Bagdadi delivering water in outlying areas of Boone County. Folks in the southern counties are always the last to get help. I am deeply grateful for the efforts of so many from Aurora Lights, OVEC and Coal River Mountain Watch for all their hard work in collecting and delivering water to those who need it and those who are least able to get it. We at the Keeper of the Mountains have been busy documenting the collection of water samples with Rob Goodwin of Coal River Mountain Watch, the distribution of water and information, collecting the voices of affected citizens and addressing the concerns of community groups. This crisis has proven what so many of us have been preaching for decades: “We cannot truly have a healthy economy without clean water.” The words “healthy” and “clean” are interchangeable in this case.
It’s paramount in this situation to understand that this is NOT an isolated event. People in the coal-producing southern counties of WV have been dealing with this situation for decades. More than two dozen peer reviewed scientific studies have shown that they are suffering from illness, shortened life expectancy and death as a result of exposure to coal toxins. The chemical that has held 300,000 West Virginians in thrall for the past 4 days is used in the washing and processing of coal. The effluent of this is then stored behind more than 110 unlined earthen dams in WV and/or pumped into abandoned underground mines. In either case, it is introduced into our aquifers and it becomes a part of our water systems. We are slowly and systematically being poisoned to death. Many people flinch when I use the word “genocide”. But what other word would I use? During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, groups of HIV positive men roamed the country, their purpose was only to rape and infect Tutsi women. They were told that a quick death was too good for a Tutsi and that a Tutsi life wasn’t worth the bullet to kill them. An HIV infection was the same as a death sentence with no chance of clemency. My question is: What’s the difference between murder with a bullet and murder with a disease? It doesn’t matter if the disease is AIDS or cancer. If you willfully cause the reduction in a person’s life expectancy, is it still not murder? How many people will have to die in WV before we accept the science?
The government in WV has long protected the extraction industries. In the opening hours of this year’s legislature, they boasted of their intent to streamline the permitting process for extraction, claiming that idle capital was bad for the economy of WV (in this case, one could easily substitute “idol” for “idle”). They have never boasted their desire to protect the people or waters of our state. Within hours of this statement we suffered this, the most recent disaster from the extraction industries. Earl Ray Tomblin refuses to acknowledge this has anything to do with the coal industry, despite the fact that this chemical exists for the coal industry specifically.
This is not an isolated event. It is yet another in a long list of events that have claimed the lives of our people in the name of “the economy” or “jobs”. WV has been the sacrificial lamb for too long. No industry, no corporation, no person should have the right to profit at the expense of another human being’s life.
It’s tragic that it takes an event like this to awaken our conscientiousness to reality. Perhaps now that the seat of power has tasted a dose of the poison they have inflicted for so long on those who had no choice but to endure it, things can change.
I invite all my brothers and sisters in this recent disaster to not forget- this event may pass quickly for you, but remains a slow, certain death for many of your brothers and sisters in the resource extraction areas of our state. Stand with us in a sustained outrage. This is not a fluke. Human dignity must triumph over industry and greed if humanity is to survive. There must be a change in our collective consciousness and our government or there is no hope for our humanity or our future. With gratitude for the humanity and selfless cooperation of so many, I remind you: There cannot be a healthy economy without clean water.
In Hope, Gratitude, Solidarity and Peace,
Paul Corbit Brown- President of Keeper of the Mountains and proud citizen of the great people of West Virginia
By William V. DePaulo
Joe Manchin, whose history of industry protection is best summed up in the campaign picture of him shooting the cap and trade bill with a rifle, is a leading sponsor of the proposed Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA) and likes to point out that now deceased Sen Lautenberg of New Jersey (rightly called the father of the Chemical Safety Board) co…sponsored CSIA shortly before his death because it, for the first time, required a safety inventory of all chemicals.
But the EPA’s safety “green light” of EPA will not be needed prior to selling chemicals, Under CSIA it’s necessary if EPA wants to ban something, and shifts to EPA the burden of proof in any enforcement activity. In other words, it will all occur after the fact, when the damage has been done.
Further — and critical to CSIA’s real purpose of protecting industry — is the fact that the bill will permit EPA to “preempt” local regulation by state, county and municipal authorities. Sort of a one-stop shopping provision for chemical companies determined to buy their way to no meaningful regulation.
To be sure, the US Chemical Safety Board’s primary recommendation in connection with Bayer CropScience’s August 2008 explosion at Institute, WV was the adoption of local regs by Kanawha County modeled on those in place in Contra Costa County, California. What has Kanawha County done since the CSB’s Jan 2011 report recommending those regs (and dozens of other matters)?. If you guessed “zip”, you get the prize.
I’ll be the first to concede that WV’s “local” Department of Environmental Protection is anything but a model of good regulation. But then it is probably the best model of what would happen to the US EPA under Manchin’s CSIA. In fact, Joe Manchin appointed Randy Huffman, the grossly incompetent industry lap dog, to head DEP and he’s still there under Earl Ray Tomlinson — in effect Manchin’s living legacy to environmental protection in WV. If you like DEP, you’ll love CSIA!
Don’t lose that image: Joe Manchin with a rifle aimed at the cap and trade bill…..now put chemical safety on that target. Still feel OK?
And don’t limit your focus on the dead co-sponsors of Manchin’s chemical industry protection bill. More instructive is the co-sponsor Senator David Vitter of Louisianna, the only state possibly more polluted by the chemical industry than West Virginia. Vitter’s most notable prior claim to fame involved multiple encounters, captured on audio tape, with prostitutes from New Orleans to Washington DC. Yeah, he probably knows a bunch about exposure to lethal stuff.
Historical footnote. Remember, the Aug 2008 explosion of Bayer CropScience, that killed two employees, and ultimately led to BCS 2011 announcement in federal court of their decision to terminate manufacture at Institute, WV of MIC (methy-isocyanate), the chemical released by Union Cabide in Bhopal in 1984 killing tens of thousands overnight.
How many explosions, fires, leaks and other disasters have to occur before we wake up to the need for real environmental protection?
Latest Title: Chemical Safety Improvement Act
Sponsor: Sen Lautenberg, Frank R. [NJ] (introduced 5/22/2013) Cosponsors (25)
Latest Major Action: 7/31/2013 Senate committee/subcommittee actions. Status: Committee on Environment and Public Works. Hearings held.
COSPONSORS(25), ALPHABETICAL [followed by Cosponsors withdrawn]: (Sort: by date)
Sen Alexander, Lamar [TN] – 5/22/2013
Sen Begich, Mark [AK] – 5/22/2013
Sen Boozman, John [AR] – 5/22/2013
Sen Burr, Richard [NC] – 7/10/2013
Sen Chambliss, Saxby [GA] – 6/18/2013
Sen Collins, Susan M. [ME] – 5/22/2013
Sen Crapo, Mike [ID] – 5/22/2013
Sen Durbin, Richard [IL] – 5/22/2013
Sen Gillibrand, Kirsten E. [NY] – 5/22/2013
Sen Hagan, Kay [NC] – 7/10/2013
Sen Harkin, Tom [IA] – 5/23/2013
Sen Hoeven, John [ND] – 5/22/2013
Sen Inhofe, James M. [OK] – 5/22/2013
Sen Isakson, Johnny [GA] – 6/18/2013
Sen Landrieu, Mary L. [LA] – 5/22/2013
Sen Manchin, Joe, III [WV] – 5/22/2013
Sen Menendez, Robert [NJ] – 5/22/2013
Sen Murkowski, Lisa [AK] – 5/23/2013
Sen Murray, Patty [WA] – 5/23/2013
Sen Pryor, Mark L. [AR] – 6/4/2013
Sen Rubio, Marco [FL] – 5/22/2013
Sen Schumer, Charles E. [NY] – 5/22/2013
Sen Toomey, Pat [PA] – 6/26/2013
Sen Udall, Tom [NM] – 5/22/2013
Sen Vitter, David [LA] – 5/22/2013
By Steve Urbon
October 07, 2013 6:13 PM
SOMERSET — Just five weeks after closing on the purchase of the Brayton Point Power Station, new owners Equipower, a subsidiary of investment partners Energy Capital Markets of Short Hills, N.J., disclosed Monday that they intend to shutter the plant as of June 2017.
The Conservation Law Foundation immediately declared this the “death knell” for coal-fired power plants in New England.
The decision was spurred by failure to agree with the region’s power grid managing company, ISO New England, which cut one-third from Brayton Point’s proposed pricing arrangement for future years.
The decision was conveyed in five plain documents filed with ISO New England by Equipower and obtained by The Standard-Times.
Equipower, which renamed the plant Brayton Point Energy LLC, did not return calls seeking comment. But Karen Wood, director of communications for the Conservation Law Foundation, said the decision triggers a 90-day review of the situation by ISO New England, just as was conducted when the coal-fired Salem Harbor Power Station was closed.
CLF has been sharply critical of Brayton Point, issuing a study last winter, months before the sale, concluding that operating the power plant — which employs nearly 200 people — no longer made sense economically, given changes in the energy supply system, especially natural gas.
Brayton Point, built in the 1960s, burns tens of thousands of tons of coal annually, and with 1,500 megawatts, is the biggest coal-fired power station in New England, with four large generators and a smaller diesel one.
It is routinely held up as one of the biggest polluters in New England. During recent years, Dominion invested more than $1 billion in upgrades and pollution control, including two 500-foot water cooling towers to stop the overheating of Mount Hope Bay.
Dominion Energy of Virginia sold it and two Illinois plants to Equipower in late August for $650 million.
“If Brayton Point can’t make it economically, no coal plant can make it,” Jonathan Peress, director of the CLF’s Clean Energy Program, told The Standard-Times. “This is the death knell for coal-fired power in new England.”
“This is the largest coal-fired power plant in New England with the lowest cost of production of any coal fired power plant,” he said.
“If they can’t make it, coal is dead in New England.
“I think it’s fair to say that we predicted this,” he said.
He said that CLF learned of the news through ISO-New England, since CLF holds a seat on the reliability committee.
While there will be an automatic 90-day review of the decision, Peress said that the move is “irrevocable.” As of May 2017, he said, Brayton Point will no longer be able to sell to the electrical grid in New England.
For Somerset, the closing could be a sharp blow to taxpayers. Brayton Point has paid as much as $15 million a year in property taxes. Selectmen Chairman Donald Setters did not return a call seeking comment.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SEPTEMBER 18, 2013
BNP Bank Divests from “Appalachian Mountain Top Removal” Operations
Charleston, WV – In a substantial victory for divestment efforts around mountaintop removal strip mining (MTR), BNP Peribas Bank announced this week that it will no longer “provide financial products or services” to “Appalachian MTR projects.” Products and services for companies who are producers of MTR coal will cease as well.
“This is exactly the type of outcome we were hoping for during the tour of European shareholder meetings earlier this Spring,” responded Paul Corbit Brown, President of the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation. “As a leading financial institution in Europe, BNP’s commitment to this policy is an important example that we hope other financial institutions will follow.” Brown traveled to Europe earlier this year where he addressed the shareholders of BNP Bank along with tens of thousands of shareholders at annual meetings in six countries across Europe. His primary message was that MTR is a violation of the human rights for the people of Appalachia.
The trip was coordinated and sponsored by Urgewald (a leading environmental NGO in Germany), Ethical Shareholders Germany, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Friends of Earth Scotland.
“Larry (Gibson) would be proud and happy about this. It’s a very good thing,” said Keepers board member Carol Gibson. The Keeper of the Mountains Foundation sends speakers to communities around the world to share the stories of the impacts of extraction on Appalachia. “We appreciate the solidarity and the incredibly coordinated efforts of these groups which made this trip a success. We are also grateful to BNP for having the courage to make this commitment to the people of Appalachia,” said Brown.
The report from BNP’s Mining Sector policy defines “Appalachian Mountain Top Removal” as:
A surface mining technique that is used to extract coal reserves near the surface in
the steep terrain conditions characteristic of Central Appalachia. This method may
have adverse impacts on communities (blasting may damage homes, endanger
residents, and leave communities exposed to coal dust) as well as the environment
(leftover rubble dumped into valleys, impacting streams and contaminating drinking
water sources for scores of communities).
The Keeper of the Mountains Foundation was founded by Larry Gibson (1946-2012) and continues to educate communities around the globe about the devastating impacts of fossil fuel extraction in the communities of Appalachia.