From: Vicki Shiah, Sive Paget & Riesel, P.C., More from this Affiliate
Published September 21, 2010 08:50 AM

Banks Seek Distance from Mountaintop Removal Mining Practices

According to an article published last week in the New York Times, major banks conducting business in the United States appear to be increasingly wary of financing mountaintop removal mining. This practice, a form of surface mining, involves the use of explosives to remove the tops of mountains to expose coal seams beneath.


While viewed by industry as an efficient, legal, and relatively safe means of coal extraction, mountaintop removal mining has been sharply criticized by environmental advocates. The adverse impacts of this practice include habitat destruction and water pollution from mining overburden that is deposited in neighboring valleys. The practice is not illegal, although bills have been introduced in Congress that would effectively disallow the placement of such fill into valley streams – for example the Clean Water Protection Act and the Appalachia Restoration Act.

In recent years, as the practice has engendered more controversy, several of the nine banks known to finance companies that conduct mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia have indicated an intention to apply greater scrutiny to, and/or phase out, financing of mountaintop removal mining. However, according to a report issued jointly by the Sierra Club and the Rainforest Action Network, which ranks responsiveness to mountaintop removal mining concerns, some of the banks' statements are vaguely worded — allowing significant leeway for continued financing of mountaintop removal mining — or do not provide for public accountability.

The substantive impact of the banks' policy statements remains to be seen. While some may view such statements as a harbinger for the eventual demise of a "dirty" practice, mining industry representatives have told the New York Times that funding has not become problematic, and that the mining companies will not have trouble finding new lenders in the event that existing lenders sever ties.

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