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Victory for Grassroots Organizing, Campaigners Say More Action Still Needed from UBS
Knoxville, TN — UBS, the world’s third top funder of mountaintop removal in 2011, has taken steps demonstrating its commitment to significantly reduce financing of the mining practice. Last month, the bank confirmed to environmental campaigners that it will continue backing away from mountaintop removal financing. Moreover, UBS has declined to participate in the most recent transactions with its former clients Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal, which were among the top producers of mountaintop removal coal in 2013.
“UBS’ statement is a step in the right direction on mountaintop removal, but it’s the bank’s actions that show they’re following through,” said Ricki Draper of Hands off Appalachia. “We have seen that grassroots organizing can make a difference in stopping the financing of this deadly form of mining that poisons coalfield communities and contributes to the destruction of Appalachia’s culture and heritage.”
The victory comes after three years of grassroots organizing by Hands Off Appalachia and Mountain Justice targeting the financing of mountaintop removal. Starting in Knoxville, TN, the Hands off Appalachia campaign has organized dozens of actions and protests at local UBS offices across Appalachia and the southeast. In the summer of 2013, members of the campaign were arrested during a protest at UBS’s Knoxville, TN office. Shortly afterwards, four members of the Connecticut-based group Capitalism vs. the Climate blocked the entrance to UBS’s North American headquarters in Stamford, CT and were arrested.
On November 25, 2014, members of Hands off Appalachia, Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival, and Capitalism vs. the Climate took action in Stamford, sitting-in at the UBS office and hanging a banner from a nearby 20-story construction crane. Police arrested 14 activists in connection to the protest.
“This is encouraging news. The movement against extreme extraction is building, and mountaintop removal is clearly a bad investment,” said Matthew Armstead of Earth Quaker Action Team. Earth Quaker Action Team, a social action group founded by Quakers, has a growing campaign to get PNC Bank out of the business of mountaintop removal financing.
Mountaintop removal is an extreme form of strip-mining in which coal companies blast up to a thousand feet off the top of a mountain to extract thin seams of coal. The resulting rubble is often placed in the valley below, burying headwater streams. Over 1 million acres of forest in Central Appalachia have been destroyed and over 2,000 miles of streams have been buried by this practice. Recent research has linked mountaintop removal to increased rates of cancer, birth defects and cardiovascular disease in communities near these mining operations.
In 2010, UBS facilitated the merger of Alpha Natural Resources and Massey Energy, creating the country’s largest mountaintop removal company, responsible for 25% of the US’ mountaintop removal coal. This decision came only two days before UBS released a statement promising to reduce their exposure to mountaintop removal over time. Other actions taken by the bank since the release of that statement also highlight the inadequacies of UBS’ mountaintop removal policy.
In 2011, the Rainforest Action Network ranked UBS as the world’s third top funder of mountaintop removal coal mining, after Citigroup and PNC. In 2012, UBS served as a financial advisor to Arch Coal’s $3.4 billion acquisition of ICG Coal. But recently, the bank has taken several steps away from mountaintop removal financing. In May 2013, the bank declined to refinance Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal. On April 7, 2014, James River Coal, a coal company with financial ties to UBS, declared bankruptcy. Shortly after, UBS downgraded the stocks of Alpha Natural Resources and Arch Coal from “sell” to “neutral”.
“All the signs point to UBS stepping away from financing mountaintop removal coal mining by reducing its exposure to these companies.” said Amanda Starbuck of the Rainforest Action Network. “We have been tracking financing of this sector for the past five years and it is clear that the bank has been avoiding the biggest new deals.”
While we feel we have the responsibility to continue to attend future court dates if we are conscious about how activists and others will be treated by this court in the future, the money for travel to court is a large burden. If you want to contribute to offset these costs, please click here http://bit.ly/1nzoRpT. Thank you everyone for your engagement and support!
The Stamford 14 had their fifth court appearance today. They were given another continuance for June 11.
Hands Off Appalachia continues the campaign to get UBS to divest from mountaintop removal as the Stamford 14 continue their legal battle.
Earlier this morning, organizers with Hands Off Appalachia delivered a letter to UBS Americas. It read,
Dear UBS North Americas,
Thank you for meeting with Hands Off Appalachia in November. While we appreciate your willingness to hold a dialogue with us, we are deeply concerned with UBS’s inadequate policy on mountaintop removal, especially in light of recent developments in Central Appalachia. Mountaintop removal coal mining continues to destroy communities, create health crises, and cause permanent destruction.
Since we met in November, over 300,000 people in central and southern West Virginia found their tap water rendered unusable because of a 10,000-gallon spill of MCHM, a chemical manufactured for coal processing.While next to nothing about the long-term health impacts of this chemical is known, hundreds of people were hospitalized from illnesses caused by acute exposure. Not only is the mining industry responsible for the demand for crude MCHM, but it is the bulk of the reason that a spill above just one water intake affected people in nine different counties: coal mining has for decades contaminated local water sources and forced a widespread rural population onto a centralized utility. Since we met in November, since personally delivering hundreds of gallons of water to our WV neighbors, we see ourselves as scrambling to avert the next industrial disaster.
In February, a coal ash spill polluted the Dan River in North Carolina leaving thousands with massive water contamination. A week later, 108,000 gallons of coal slurry from a Patriot Coal Prep Plant spilled into the Kanawha tributary.
After James River Coal Company declared bankruptcy on April 7, UBS downgraded Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources from neutral to sell. Clearly, coal is a volatile investment. While UBS downgraded Alpha and Arch for economic reasons, it is imperative that UBS also recognize the impact of its investments on human health and the environment. People living near mountaintop removal sites are 50% more likely to die of cancer and 42% more likely to be born with birth defects compared to other people in Appalachia.
This month, JPMorgan Chase updated its environmental policy, revealing that it will be ending financial relationships with mountaintop removal coal mining companies. Wells Fargo and BNP Bank of the West recently made similar steps.
It is time for UBS to follow the lead taken by these banks and stop funding companies that practice mountaintop removal.
Hands Off Appalachia
Hands Off Appalachia will not rest until UBS stops funding mountaintop removal!
The Past Two Months
February and March were busy months for Hands Off Appalachia! We travelled to Connecticut, Virginia, Tennessee, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Washington DC, and Maryland for speaking events, public demonstrations, and court dates.
Dan Cohn talks with Stan Heller of The Struggle during the Stamford 14 speaking tour.
Adam Hall recently did an interview with Appalachian Voices about defending the Appalachian Mountains and his role in Hands Off Appalachia. Read the interview here!
And be sure to check out a report on the speaking tour on the I Love Mountains website here!