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Quakers protest PNC mountaintop removal financing

Kevin Begos, Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A Quaker group and other protesters on Tuesday asked PNC Bank to stop funding projects that use mountaintop removal to produce coal and, if it doesn't, asked investors to divest from the sixth-largest bank in America.

About 25 protesters held signs and sang hymns outside the annual PNC Financial Services Group Inc. shareholder meeting in downtown Pittsburgh.

Zachary Hershman, one of the protesters from the Earth Quaker Action Team, said they chose PNC because of its connection to Provident National Corp., a bank that was founded by Quakers in the mid-1800s. On its website, PNC calls itself "a leader in eco-friendly development."

"I think what it comes down to is integrity, which means what you say has to be matched by your actions," Hershman said. The Quakers also had shareholders inside the meeting who were asking company executives to stop funding mountaintop removal, which many environmental groups say causes extensive damage to the environment and to mining communities.

During the process, coal companies remove the tops of mountains to get at deposits of coal buried near the surface, as opposed to drilling a shaft for underground mining.

The Quakers were also asking people who have PNC stock or accounts to divest until the bank stops funding mountaintop removal projects. Hershman said the divestment campaign has totaled about $3 million.

PNC spokesman Frederick Solomon declined to comment on the protest.

The Pittsburgh-based bank's own corporate responsibility report acknowledges concerns about mountaintop removal. PNC notes that it provides financing for a diverse group of energy companies, including coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, biomass, geothermal and solar.

The responsibility report also said that "despite the considerable national focus on renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, coal and natural gas will continue to supply most of America's domestic electricity demands for the immediate future," and that those industries have "filled a critical need" in communities where jobs are scarce.