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Some Banks Are Offering Coal Free-Credit Cards...and Some Are Not

Tina Casey headshotWords by Tina Casey
Leadership & Transparency

The longtime sustainable business advocacy organization Green America (formerly Co-op America) has just come out with a new report card that could help consumers identify banks that they want to do credit card business with, based on their record of investing -- or not investing -- in coal-fired power plants and coal mining.

The coal-free credit cards report is timely, given the three-in-a-row coal related disasters that recently polluted the Elk River and Kanawah Creek in West Virginia, and the Dan River in North Carolina, which have drawn national attention to the risks and impacts of coal mining.

Unfortunately, those three episodes are just the tip of a very dirty iceberg.

The Problem With Coal

Consider the three aforementioned episodes, which involved neglect if not illegal activity, in the context of well-documented global climate change and local public health impacts resulting from the legally permitted practice of burning coal in power plants.

For additional context, consider mountaintop coal mining, a legally permitted practice that has literally blown up hundreds of mountains in Appalachia and buried 2,000 miles of pristine "headwater" streams.

The picture that emerges is one of a lawful but uniquely destructive form of energy harvesting, and here's the kicker: As the U.S. sheds its dependency on coal, the export market for U.S. coal is still growing. That means local communities here in the U.S. are victimized more and more by the risks and impacts of coal mining, while providing the fuel that powers economic growth overseas.

Coal-Free Credit Cards

The coal-free credit card report is a brief two-page pdf, and you can get many more details from Green America at the Take Charge of Your Card link. For those of you on the run, here's a rundown of the juicy bits:

  • Green America looked at nearly $21 billion in financing by major banks in coal-fired power plants and coal mining.

  • Some of the major banks fared a little better than others. In that group, the highest mark went to Capital One with a C+, followed closely by U.S. Bank with a C-.

  • Wells Fargo came in at D+, Bank of America garnered a D-, and Chase and Citigroup were at the bottom of the heap with a collective F.

As for recommendations, Green America notes that the business models of the credit card companies American Express and Discover are not friendly to coal and coal-related financing. However, Green America did not find much to shout about in the community development profiles of the two companies, which affected their overall ratings.

In the banking category, Green America identifies five that earned an A+ rating for being free of coal financing, with the "plus" bonus points earned for community development activity: One Pacific Coast Bank, Hope Credit Union, Albina, Permaculture, and Southern Bancorp.

Green America also has another related campaign up its sleeve, Break Up With Your Mega-Bank, that helps you find options with credit unions and banks that focus on community development.

A Green Resource For Consumers

We've been focusing a lot of attention recently on the growing library of information resources and insights that green investor organizations are providing to the commerce and investment communities.

Just a couple of recent examples include the Ceres 2014 Investor Summit on Climate Risk and its new fracking and water resource risk assessment, along with the new Carbon Trust report highlighting sustainability success stories, "Opportunities in a resource constrained world: How business is rising to the challenge.”

Green America's new report, along with its related campaigns, can fill in some of the gaps by helping to provide individual consumers similar resources for building a more sustainable household financial profile.

Image: Credit cards by vitamindave

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