By Andrew Morris
The Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network and BankTrack last month released a list of the 10 worst offenders in coal financing. It is no surprise that banks such as J.P. Morgan, Citigroup and Bank of America are on the list, given their copious lending to companies that operate coal-fired power plants and practice mountaintop-removal mining.
The 10 banks highlighted in the report loaned a combined $20 billion to coal companies. While this is a daunting figure, overall usage of coal-fired power has declined by 11 percent since 2011, potentially signaling a slow demise of the practice. Until then, coal-fired power plants continue to be among the more environmentally devastating forms of energy production, with proven links to groundwater and surface water contamination; climate change; and human health problems triggered by toxic levels of mercury and coal dust.
Coal production generates a half trillion dollars in externalized environmental and health costs each year, as noted in a 2011 Harvard School of Public Health study. The costs range from hospitalization for residents of coal communities – who have higher-than-average mortality rates and suffer disproportionately from cancer and other illnesses– to water pollution and toxic waste spills.
The “report card” released by the three groups this week gave the lowest grades to BNY Mellon for its financing of both mountaintop removal and coal-burning power plants; the bank was given “F’s” in both categories. Close behind was Goldman Sachs, which got two “D’s.”
“As the costs of climate disruption for our communities and future generations mount, U.S. banks continue to finance tens of billion dollars for companies that are mining and burning coal we can no longer afford to burn,” Ben Collins, research and policy campaigner for Rainforest Action Network’s Energy and Finance Program, said in a press release.