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Oct 112011

From Green Right Now Reports

As the Occupy Wall Street movement rails against corporate greed and wrongdoing by large banks,  the Rainforest Action Campaign has singled out one bank that it considers to be the worst in the crowd, the Bank of America.

RAN maintains that BOA has failed to divest in coal and fund renewable energy.

RAN’s rant against BOA Merrill Lynch claims that the megabank, which just announced it will be laying off 30,000 workers, is the biggest backer of the coal industry, which is turn is the biggest carbon polluter among energy producers. Coal emits more carbon pollution than oil and natural gas, and far more than renewable energy sources, like solar, wind and geothermal power, which are virtually emissions-free once in production.

In its web campaign, which dubs BOA Merrill Lynch the “Bank of Coal,” RAN claims that BOA, the largest bank in the U.S. and the 6th largest in the world has invested $4.3 billion in the coal industry over the last two years, making it the single biggest backer of coal.

Bank of America’s response to RAN’s campaign has been to point out that coal is such a large sector of the economy, it cannot be dropped easily from portfolios.

“As I am sure you are aware, roughly 50% of the power in the U.S.—the energy about half of us are paying for when we pay our monthly utility bills—comes from coal-fired energy,” says Britney Sheehan, a BOA media spokesperson for environmental issues.

“I point this out because Bank of America recognizes that the transition to cleaner energy sources is not something that will happen overnight and that fossil fuels—coal in particular—will continue to meet a large portion of our energy demands for the foreseeable future.”

Coal supplies about 45 percent of U.S. energy, followed by natural gas, nuclear, oil and renewables. (Source: EIA)

Actually, coal now supplies 45 percent of the energy used in the U.S., according to the latest figures from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

With coal supplies dwindling in Appalachia and the U.S. increasingly relying on coal imported from China, RAN maintains that BOA should be moving much faster to support less-polluting energy industries. The environmental group has issued a set of demands that ask BOA to:

  • Quit financing retrofits that extend the life of coal-fired power plants
  • Quit financing mountaintop removal operations
  • Shift energy financing toward supporting clean energy sources that don’t threaten the health of Americans and the planet

RAN, based in San Francisco and Washington DC, additionally criticizes BOA for pledging to spend $20 billion over ten years to mitigate climate change, but failing to reveal the details of the initial expenditures under this plan, launched in 2007.

“This lack of transparency makes it hard to thoroughly analyze Bank of America’s Environmental Business Initiative investments. Instead, we’re left to wonder what, exactly, BoA means by “innovative companies addressing climate change issues” when it describes its “Strategic Environmental Investments.” Or how, exactly, Bank of America “invests in transactions that finance emission reductions in the global carbon markets,” the environmental group writes on its website in an article entitled Bank of America’s Shirking Responsibility Statement.

Sheehan referred to those investments as creating jobs and green energy, but did not list them.

Bank of America today announced that it will invest in a carbon offset program through TerraPass. Under the agreement, BOA and Merrill Lynch will have options to purchase carbon offsets in the beginning California market. The offsets would come from a network of methane gas operations in the US. Methane capture is one method used by industry and cities to simultaneously reduce emissions and generate green energy.

Some environmentalists believe that treating carbon and methane emissions as commodities is a quick way to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions that are forcing climate change. They say that engaging market forces, as some other nations have done, would help bring down emissions.

Others, however, maintain that greenhouse gases should be dealt with directly with carbon taxes on polluters and investment for new clean energy. They say this would be more direct and efficient and would avoid creating a commodity market that would be controlled by large financiers and potentially forestall the steep reduction in emissions that many scientists say is the only way to avert climate catastrophes.

Sheehan called out another move by BOA,a $2.6 billion commercial and industrial rooftop solar deal which she described as the largest transaction of its kind, set to create thousands of jobs in 28 states and generate 733 megawatts of renewable energy.

That solar project is a collaboration among Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Prologis, an industrial real estate company which will provide access to rooftops and energy company NRG.

The project is backed by a $1.4 billion Department of Energy (DOE)  government loan.