Another environmental award for the fossil fool

April 28, 2008

Bank of America and its CEO just got this award

Mayor Jerry Sanders and the City of San Diego will honor Bank of America today with the annual City of San Diego Climate Protection Champion Award, recognizing the company’s local and national efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Bank of America is one of three organizations selected to receive the award.

As part of its ten-year, $20 billion environmental initiative announced last year, Bank of America awarded its first set of “green grants” in January to four San Diego nonprofits totaling $500,000. These grants support a new clean technology business cluster, the development of policy and grassroots solutions to curb global warming, and green building efforts. Bank of America has also recently provided $6 million in financing to San Diego businesses for renewable energy and green building projects as part of the environmental initiative.

Ok, that award looks like an attaboy for Bank of America (BofA) from the city with groups receiving the grants. So, is BofA part of the solution, as well as being part of the problem? Remember a month ago BofA and CEO Ken Lewis has been judged to be a fossil fool, albeit not by a jury of his peers:

The announcement comes on the same day that the bank’s CEO, Kenneth Lewis, was voted 2008’s Fossil Fool of the Year in an online contest sponsored by Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Energy Action Coalition and Co-op America. The groups say that Lewis was nominated for the award because the “financial giant is the leading financial backer of mountaintop removal coal mining in the United States and a top funder of new coal-fired power plants.”

The whole Fossil Fool thing was a obviously a publicity stunt by a pretty effective environmental group. However, mountaintop removal (MTR) makes a few people none too happy. King Coal is still very powerful in the Appalachians, there’s even a highway named for it. Many of do us benefit from coal mining for the power we need to operate our big screen TVs and our laptops. After all, half of US electricity is generated from coal plants. To the But folks, it’s not a pretty sight and you can see it with Google Earth. For the optimistic, MTR has certain advantages for the locals.

Opponents who link Citigroup and BofA to MTR aren’t very happy. They organized a protest at the shareholder’s meeting for BofA in Charlotte last week. Last year, activists raised up a 50 foot banner to protest the bank. A branch bank was paintbombed in Berkeley.

But on the other hand, BofA appears to be trying. Another environmental group, the National Resources Defense Council, or the NRDC, gave BofA an award. On April Fools’ Day, I’m sure no irony was intended by anyone.

Mayor Bloomberg created PlanNYC, an environmental roadmap designed to make New York City efficient and sustainable in the 21st Century. Bank of America’s $20 billion environmental initiative invests and finances efforts that address climate change, as reflected in the new Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Place in NYC that, when completed in 2009 will be one of the most ecologically friendly and efficient office skyscrapers in the world.

Lewis will announce that Bank of America will adopt The Carbon Principles, a set of guidelines that help advisors and lenders to power companies evaluate and address carbon risks in the financing of projects.

“The Carbon Principles are critical as we work to secure a more sustainable energy future,” said Lewis. “It is my hope that these principles, when combined with Bank of America’s commitment to assess the cost of carbon in our risk and underwriting process, will enable us to better evaluate the business models of utility sector companies and, ultimately, help them move to cleaner technologies in the future.”

What to make of the dueling awards?

Well, RAN is certainly the more aggressive, hard-line enviro group, but the folks at NRDC are no slouches. In fact, NRDC has put together a parody of the coal industry that takes a few digs at mountaintop mining of coal, which is carried out by companies financed by the Bank of America. What’s more, NRDC attorneys have gone to court to try to stop mountaintop mining, as well to oppose coal plants being built by utilities financed by BofA. Indeed, I’m told that there was some discontent inside NRDC when staffers learned that Ken Lewis was going to be honored by the group.

So, groups like RAN and groups like NRDC use different tactics to get what they want. Both want the same thing in this case, the end of MTR and the reduction of carbon emissions from King Coal. But who will eventually be more effective, or are they both needed to bolster the effectiveness of the other.

This article is a recent balanced (I think) discussion of the bank’s relationship to environmental groups. The greening of the banks is discussed as Earth Day has just passed.

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