April 23, 2013
A protest by a group know best for its pacifist views disrupted a PNC shareholder meeting in Pittsburgh Tuesday to the point that the company’s chairman and CEO had to shut down the gathering.
For three years the Earth Quaker Action Team has been protesting the financial institution’s involvement in the practice of collecting coal through a process known as mountaintop removal.
“It’s really up to its ears in dirty business, even though it pretends to be a green bank,” said Action Team member George Lakey. “So we thought, let's go after the banking industry… It’s easy to forget that a large part of the fossil fuels industry is owned by the banks.”
Last year PNC said it would no longer invest in companies with a majority of its business tied to the practice of shaving off the top of a mountain to get to the coal seam and dumping the waste in a nearby valley.
Lakey said PNC has been unwilling to document the shift, and he believes the nation's fifth largest financial institution is still a big investor in the practice.
The Quakers began to interrupt the meeting by calling out individual board members by name to ask them if they support the practice. Chairman and CEO James Rohr called the protesters “out of order” and then called the meeting to a close long before it was done with its scheduled business.
“We have been to two previous shareholder meeting and we were very polite,” Lakey said. “This time we upped the anti. We were far more confrontive (sic), far more confrontive (sic), and we basically took over the meeting. It was very satisfying.”
A PNC spokesman declined to comment about the protest.
Lakey noted that most members were raised as Quakers and such a showing of disobedience was out of their comfort zone.
The Quakers were not the only group to bring up environmental issues at the annual meeting. A group from Boston Common Asset Management LLC brought a shareholder resolution asking that the board evaluate the impact that green house gas emission and climate change could have on the value of its energy holdings.
The corporation, which owns nearly $6 million in PNC stock, fears that the assets could be overvalued given the risk that policy change due to climate change could limit the value of fossil fuels in the future.
“Our investment philosophy is to be a long-term holder, so we expect to be shareholders for a number of years with this company,” said Boston Common shareholder engagement team member Meredith Benton.
The resolution asked PNC to assess those risks and properly value the investments.
The resolution failed, which did not surprise Benton. But she was surprised that the financial institution did not disclose the results. Benton wanted to gauge the support among other shareholders.
She said a similar resolution before J.P Morgan Chase was withdrawn when the managers of that company decided to take such action on their own.
The Allegheny Front's Tom Prigg and Ann Murray contributed to this story.