April 26, 2013
Shareholders’ meetings are often quiet affairs. But that was not the case for the 2013 investors’ meeting for PNC Financial Services Group.
The meeting was cut short when mountaintop coal mining protesters disrupted the gathering. One by one, members of the Earth Quaker Action Team stood and called out the names of individual PNC board members, demanding they reveal how they felt about funding mountaintop removal. Seated protesters sang, “Which side are you on?” with each call for accountability.
PNC President Jim Rohr, who told one protester she was out of order, hurried through the agenda.
Rohr announced that shareholders voted down a proposal by Boston Common Asset Management, an investment manager that owns $6 million in PNC stock. The resolution called for PNC to evaluate its financial risk of funding carbon intensive practices such as coal mining. About one-fourth of the shareholders voted in favor of the proposal. Because of changes in Securities and Exchange Commission policies, this was the first time investors could vote on this topic.
“We are specifically concerned that the company may be misvaluing some of their loans because they don’t have the expertise that helps them assess the way climate change may affect their portfolio,” says Meredith Benton, client portfolio manager at Boston Common Asset Management.
Benton says recent studies have raised concerns that fossil-fuel intensive companies—particularly those that are reliant on coal—are overvalued. Future regulations and an emphasis on cleaner fuels could undermine the coal market.
Members of the Earth Quaker Action Team also rallied outside the site of the meeting. The group has been trying for a few years to get PNC to end any involvement with mountaintop mining, a practice that involves blowing off the tops of mountains to reach seams of coal. This protest accelerated their attempts to get PNC's attention, says EQAT founder George Lakey.
“A lot of members of our group are Quakers who were not brought up to be disruptive and disturbing of the status quo. This was a definite escalation on our part, and it was thrilling to see that we basically took over the meeting.”
In 2010, PNC announced it wouldn't finance any company that gets most of its coal from mountaintop mining or fund any single mountaintop removal project. Lakey says the bank hasn’t documented these changes, and is still at the top of the list of lenders funding coal-reliant companies.
Earth Quaker Action Team says they plan to continue to put pressure on PNC board members to end the bank’s financing of mountaintop removal.
PNC wouldn’t comment for this story.
Allegheny Front intern Tom Prigg contributed to this report.