Bank of America Retreats from Financing Destructive Mountaintop-Removal Mining

The bank's new policy is a financial blow to the coal industry and a big win for enviros.

After all the bad news about mountaintop removal, how about a little success?

Yesterday, Bank of America, a lead financier of coal, announced that it will be phasing out financing for companies that practice mountaintop-removal coal mining, a highly destructive and controversial method of coal extraction. The policy is a financial blow to the coal industry just as the Environmental Protection Agency -- at the behest of the Bush administration -- approved a rule that will make it easier for coal companies to dump into streams and valleys the waste from mountaintop-removal mining operations.

Bank of America's decision is a giant leap forward in the fight against mountaintop removal, which has devastated Appalachian communities and the mountains and streams they depend on. The decision is also 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.

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The new policy states: "Bank of America is particularly concerned about surface mining conducted through mountaintop removal in locations such as central Appalachia. We therefore will phase out financing of companies whose predominant method of extracting coal is through mountaintop removal. While we acknowledge that surface mining is economically efficient and creates jobs, it can be conducted in a way that minimizes environmental impacts in certain geographies."

At Rainforest Action Network, we -- along with Appalachian allies and grassroots activists -- have been pressuring Bank of America since October 2007 to cease financing of mountaintop-removal mining and coal-fired power plants. This policy is a critical step in the right direction and a challenge to Citi, JP Morgan Chase and other banks to similarly take responsibility for the social and environmental impacts of their financing.

Until now, Bank of America has been involved with eight of the United States' top mountaintop-removal coal-mining operators, which collectively produce more than 250 million tons of coal each year. Mountaintop removal flattens mountain ranges and transforms healthy mountain woodlands into toxic sludge that has clogged more than 700 miles of rivers and streams.

In the coming weeks, it will be crucial that Bank of America puts its money where its mouth is. The devil is, of course, in the details with this policy, and Bank of America needs to issue a timeline for the phasing out of its financing and provide further explanation of what will and will not continue to be financed. This will only be a victory when we see change on the ground.

On a larger scale, banks hold the purse strings for the coal industry and have tremendous influence in determining whether we continue to allow these companies to destroy our climate and communities or whether we start to fund the future with a Green New Deal that revolutionizes our energy economy. This is a small taste of the role responsible banks could play in mitigating the climate crisis.

Michael Brune is the executive director of Rainforest Action Network.