While the climate bill is withering on the vine in Washington, many of my environmental colleagues have spent the last few weeks rehashing what went wrong. And who could blame them? There is good reason to be disillusioned by Congress's inability to curb climate change, and to reconsider our movement's strategies over the past several years. In my eyes, assuming that Washington is the only place where change can and needs to happen was the first mistake.
It turns out that while Washington is failing to address pressing issues such as our climate and energy future, positive change is happening in others places--even as unlikely a place as Wall Street.
Just a few weeks ago, Wells Fargo became the sixth major bank to curb its financial relationship with coal operators that practice mountaintop removal (MTR) mining. A devastating form of strip mining, where mountains are blown apart to reveal small seams of coal. MTR has become increasingly controversial with both scientists and the federal government confirming that the practice causes irrevocable harm to landscape and water quality.
Two years ago, Wall Street didn't blink at bankrolling those mining operators responsible for blowing up America's mountains for climate-killing coal. The top banks in the country were the ATMS of the mountaintop removal coal mining industry.
It took more than two years of national public pressure, led by Rainforest Action Network and our allies around the country, but America's banks are now moving (at least when it comes to coal mining). Money talks - and it is saying loud and clear that mountaintop removal coal mining is a bad investment.
Now, all four of the top banks (JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and Bank of America) have curbed their financing of the practice and stopped financing altogether for Massey Energy, the leading mountaintop removal coal operator in the country and the company responsible for the tragic Upper Big Branch Mine explosion last April.
This sector-wide banking shift is critical to stopping MTR once and for all. In order to maintain business-as-usual, coal operators need the cash banks have been providing them. But as their access to capital becomes more limited (as less banks are willing to support them, and all deals are put through rigorous screens), it will be harder for mining companies to finance the blowing up of America's mountains.
Transforming the financing practices of our country's largest banks is also a critical step in the climate change fight. We must push Wall Street, not just Washington, to take a leadership role in transitioning the country to a clean energy economy. As we say at Rainforest Action Network, 'banks need to fund the future.' It is our job to remind them just how risky an investment coal and other fossil fuels really are. And, as it turns out, they do listen.
Wall Street's move on mountaintop removal coal mining puts us one step closer to the clean energy economy we need so critically right now. We still have a long way to go. But seeing the progress we've made, realizing that change is on the way, it feels good.
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