Environmental activists continue campaign

ANGELO FICHERA TTN Alumnus Luke Byrnes leads a sit-in at an Oct. 11 Board of Trustees meeting to challenge Temple’s relationship with PNC.

Board of Trustees members did not respond to an invite to hear student concerns.

Informing students on environmental concerns surrounding a process called mountaintop removal coal mining, activists led a teach-in on Friday, Nov. 4 in Anderson Hall.

The same activists hosting the discussion had organized a rally during a Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 11, protesting the university’s relationship with PNC Bank that the students contend is the top financier of companies involved with mountaintop removal coal mining.

The teach-in was one of history professor Ralph Young’s weekly discussions on current political and social issues.

One of the presenters, Luke Byrnes, a 2009 alumnus, said the board claimed to not know the specifics of the issue. So, Byrnes said, the group invited the board, including President Ann Weaver Hart and board member J. William Mills, the regional director of the Philadelphia Southern New Jersey PNC, to the teach-in.

No board members were in attendance.

“I guess you’d have to have faith in them in order to be disappointed in them,” Byrnes said.

Board members previously told the activists that their investments committee would be considering their issue.

Nevertheless, Byrnes explained the particulars of mountain top removal to the attending crowd of students, comparing the business practices of coal companies to colonial conquest.

Byrnes said that corporations attempt to remove whole communities by subjecting them to externalities like environmental disaster and road destruction costs, sinking property values, job losses and public health concerns.

In the Appalachia range, the environmental effects of mountain top removal are tremendous, Byrnes said.

He said the process has impacted more than 1 million acres, which sources have equated to “blowing up the entire top of the state of Delaware.”

Walter Hjelt Sullivan, a member of the Earth Quaker Action Team, said the industrial conquest and eco-travesties of coal companies continue due to the inadequacy of the Environmental Protection Agency and the influence coal companies maintain in the court system.

In addition, Sullivan said powerful financial backers like PNC Bank strengthen the grip of the coal industry.

“Mountain top removal coal mining is a very capital intensive process,” Sullivan said. “PNC Bank is the bank that says, ‘Here, we’ll give you what ever the number of dollars it is in advance,’ then they can purchase the things that they need in order to accomplish it, and then when they sell the coal they pay PNC back.”

Brianne Murphy, a senior religion and visual anthropology major, said Temple is also to blame for mountaintop removal coal mining by continuing its partnership with PNC, which has eight ATMs across Main Campus.

Murphy said the university’s advertising of its “green” practices and its policy statements toward environmental and social responsibility are hypocritical.

“Even though [Temple] says nothing in its policy should be interpreted or construed to authorize violation, when there’s clear disjuncture between policy and action, why not call it into question?” Murphy said.

Murphy showed a copy of Temple’s 990 form, a return of organization exempt from income tax form, which lists a $704,000 banking services transaction with PNC.

Byrnes said he emailed university officials, asking what the transaction meant, and was told the information has to be withheld.

Both Murphy and Sullivan said the only way Temple students can affect the university’s relationship with PNC is through nonviolent direct action and galvanized support for their campaign.

Payne Schroeder can be reached at payne.schroeder@temple.edu.

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