Activists protest PNC shareholder meeting in Tampa over Mountaintop Removal

Earlier this month, JPMorgan Chase updated its environmental policy and revealed that it will be ending its financial relationships with Mountaintop Removal (MTR) coal-mining companies, joining Wells Fargo and BNP Paribas/Bank of the West in doing so. MTR is the stripping of tops off of mountains in Appalachia to extract coal. The unusable waste rock is then disposed of in the valleys and streams below. Various reports over the years say that the practice has spiked birth defects, worsened chronic conditions like heart disease and ruined lands.

Another financial institution that has been the subject of such protests for continuing to support coal-mining companies that engage in that practice is Pittsburg-based PNC Bank. Today in Tampa's Westshore district, approximately two dozen activists from the Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) held signs and demonstrated in front of the Intercontinental Hotel, where the Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank was holding its annual shareholder meeting.

"I got involved because of a trip I took to Southwest West Virginia, where I saw what used to be mountains turned into this erie shade of green because of spray painting that is supposed to look like reclamation, I saw that the flat tundra where the mountaintop used to be and I heard and felt how silent it was without any natural light," said Samantha Shain, the media organizer of the event. "We find as many opportunities as possible to publicly challenge PNC because of the devastating consequences of mountaintop removal of coal mining."
This is the third straight year that EQAT has protested at a PNC shareholders meeting, and they say they'll continue to gather in front of PNC public events in the future until they change their policy. 

The Pittsburgh-based bank's own corporate responsibility report acknowledges concerns about mountaintop removal. PNC notes that it provides financing for a diverse group of energy companies, including coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, biomass, geothermal and solar.

Although Shain hails from New Jersey, most of the two dozen other activists at the protest were from West Central Florida. 

Tampa resident Dustin Lemke said he became aware of the issue when he attended the national Quaker meeting in Bowling Green four years ago, where there was a workshop held on the dangers of MTR. At that time the bank had yet to establish any branches in Tampa Bay, so he said he "jumped" at the chance to participate in today's rally. "We're all consumers," he said. "We have the choice to put our money where we want to."

"We're not against them," Fort Myers resident Chris Ruhnke said as several shareholders bypassed the protesters to get inside the Intercontinental Hotel. "This is their planet as much as it is our planet, and just as much the shareholders', so we understand companies have to make a profit, but there has to be a balance between what's good for the people and what's good for the Earth — not in a confrontational way, but with Quaker love and brotherhood of man."

This was PNC Bank's first shareholder meeting to be held in Tampa, where their business has expanded in recent years. In 2012 and 2013 JPMorgan Chase has held its annual shareholder meeting in Tampa as well. Both companies have been subject to intense demonstrations over the years, leading some to speculate that's why they've moved such meetings to sleepy Tampa in recent years. But Samantha Shain from EQAT says that her group will keep the pressure on wherever they meet up.

"We very much believe PNC is on the run," Shain says. "They thought they could outrun Quakers, but there are Quakers everywhere who are mobilizing."

CL has reached out to the communications office of PNC Bank for comment, and will update this blog if and when they comment on today's protest.

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