Study Exposes Human Rights Risks to Banks Tied to Arch Coal

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Proposed coal mine would violate human rights, ruin cultural heritage site
Wednesday, March 6, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO—A report released today by Rainforest Action Network details risks associated with Arch Coal and its plans to develop a new mountaintop removal coal mine at Blair Mountain in West Virginia. The latest Coal Risk Update reveals how the new operation, in combination with past and existing mines, could violate fundamental human rights, ruin a cultural heritage site and lead to policy irregularities at banks tied to the company.

If approved, the controversial mine would destroy the heart of the Blair Mountain battlefield, the site of the largest armed workers rebellion in US history, acknowledged as historically significant by both the National Register of Historic Places and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The mine would also further degrade the local environment and increase contamination risks for the local water supply.

“More mountaintop removal mining would endanger residents’ lives and irreversibly harm a nationally significant, cultural heritage site,” said Ben Collins, research and policy campaigner at Rainforest Action Network and author of the report. “Banks that lend to Arch Coal should reassess their financial ties to the company in light of significant human rights risks associated with the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.”

Once a bustling miners’ town, Blair, West Virginia now consists of a handful of family homes and a small museum that houses artifacts from the historic battlefield. The tap water is not safe to drink and the echoing tremors of blasting can be felt from five mountaintop removal sites that surround the community.

Today’s Coal Risk Update highlights potential human rights impacts the planned mountaintop removal mine would have and the risk it could create for banks that loan to the company. In November 2012, nine major banks (Bank of America, Bank of Montreal, BBVA, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, PNC Financial, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Union Bank/Mitsubishi UFJ) loaned $250 million dollars to Arch Coal, providing a financial lifeline to the company.

As the report points out, six of the banks that contributed to the deal have policy commitments that prohibit financing companies that violate human rights. By lending to Arch, these banks face human rights policy irregularities including the right to water, housing, health and cultural heritage.

For more than a decade local community members and rights advocates have asserted vocal criticism surrounding Arch Coal’s existing mines in Blair. Critics of the operations point to evidence of harmful air, water and noise pollution, and actions taken by the company that depopulated the area — so that Arch could complete the mining and blasting unhindered by local residents. According to testimony from Arch officials regarding existing mountaintop removal mines, “[the mining] would make life so miserable for many Blair residents that they would want to sell their homes and move.”

Today’s release represents the second in a new series of research updates by the Rainforest Action Network on the environmental and social risks involved with investment in the coal industry. The periodic updates will highlight emerging risks faced by companies involved with coal extraction, processing, and combustion.

Download the report here: http://ran.org/coal-risk-update-03-2013

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Rainforest Action Network runs hard-hitting campaigns to break North America’s fossil fuels addiction, protect endangered forests and Indigenous rights, and stop destructive investments around the world through education, grassroots organizing, and non-violent direct action. For more information, please visit: www.ran.org