Activist say MN banks should divest from climate chaos

Report says Wells Fargo, US Bank invest billions in most damaging fossil fuels

Members of the local climate change activist group MN350 rallied at US Bank on the corner of Hennepin and University in Minneapolis on January 26.
Members of the local climate change activist group MN350 rallied at US Bank on the corner of Hennepin and University in Minneapolis on January 26.

On January 26 at 10:15 am, 25 members of local climate change activist group MN350 entered the lobby of US Bank at the corner of Hennepin and University, chanting “US Bank, do some good, get Enbridge out of our neighborhood.” Community members then unveiled a river labeled Kalamazoo, Flint and Mississippi, and expressed concern about the negative effects of US Bank’s financing of coal and tar sands oil on drinking water, Native American communities and the climate.

Minnesota banking giants Wells Fargo and US Bank invest billions in some of the industries that are causing runaway climate change including tar sands oil development, mountaintop coal removal and fracking, according to a new report by MN350. “Despite their stated concern for the community and environment, Wells and US Bank are putting their financial might behind deadly and dying industries that disproportionately pollute communities of color and put life as we know it in peril,” said Ulla Nilsen, a MN350 member who co-authored the report. “The economics of a clean energy economy get better every day and would make a better investment than extreme fossil fuels.”

According to the report, Financing Climate Chaos: How Minnesota’s Banking Giants Prioritize Profit in the Face of Climate Change, US Bank and Wells Fargo have financed the expansion of tar sands oil, a type of mined oil that has high carbon emissions and devastating environmental effects. US Bank was the trustee for $400 million of securities issued in 2007 by Enbridge Energy, which is currently working on a massive expansion of their pipeline system linking new and existing pipelines across Minnesota, including what opponents call an illegal expansion of the Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline at the US/Canada border. US Bank also served as the trustee for $1.5 billion in securities issued in 2014 by a subsidiary of Enbridge.

According to Rainforest Action Network, Wells Fargo has provided over two billion dollars in financing to tar sands companies since 2007.

Minnesota’s Native American communities have led opposition to the expansion of Enbridge’s pipeline network. Winona Laduke, executive director of Honor the Earth, states, “New pipelines proposals from Enbridge put our relationship to our land, its health, and our communities at risk — infringing on those treaty rights.”

Over the last 10 years, US Bank and Wells Fargo have provided over $12.7 billion in financing to the coal industry in the U.S., including significant support for the four largest coal companies in the U.S. — Peabody Energy Corporation, Arch Coal, Inc., Cloud Peak Energy, and Alpha Natural Resources. These four companies alone produce half of the coal in the United States.

In 2013, Wells Fargo and US Bank jointly provided $1.7 billion in financing to Alpha Natural Resources, which owns the majority of mountaintop removal projects in the U.S. The following year that company was found guilty of over 6,000 instances of illegally dumping toxins into the waterways, over a period of seven years, and agreed to $228 million in penalties and other costs.

“Mountaintop removal strip-mining is a particularly destructive form of coal mining, in which the tops of mountains are deforested and then removed with explosives and heavy machinery, flattening the landscape,” the report notes.

US Bank and Wells Fargo also invest heavily in hydraulic fracking nationwide. “The two banks have provided over $24 billion in financing over the last 10 years to companies in the fracking industry,” the report states.

The report calls on US Bank and Wells Fargo to stop financing the most extreme fossil fuel projects. “A commitment to move away from financing these sorts of extreme extraction projects — fracking, tar sands and shale oil infrastructure and destructive coal mining — would be a powerful statement in favor of a sustainable future,” it states. It also recommends that banks divest investment funds from fossil fuel companies, actively seek out clean energy, socially just investments such as community solar projects, and support strong public policies that will enable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

“Banks are in a position to either prolong the patterns of intensive energy use based on the burning of fossil fuels, or to invest in the necessary transition to an environmentally sustainable and just economy,” Nilsen said.

Organizers with MN350 have reached out on multiple occasions to US Bank executives asking them to meet with concerned community members. Organizers hand-delivered a letter to US Bank and announced that if US Bank refuses to engage on this issue, members will be moving their money to another bank at a Move Your Money day of action February 16.

In recent months, many banks and international lending institutions, including the World Bank, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs have slowed or stopped their financing of the coal industry entirely, while US Bank has not. Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, declared that the warming climate presented major risks for the global economy and global financial stability in a recent speech, the New York Times reported.

 

This information was provided by MN350, a Minnesota-based spin-off of the global 350.org, dedicated to “building a climate movement by inviting and inspiring Minnesotans to take powerful, collective action grounded in urgency, justice and possibility for our planet.”