The Wizards of Finance

11/17/2010 10:00 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Wizards of Finance are slowly backing away from mountaintop removal mining (MTR) like the well-brought up from a drunk, puking, distant cousin. A recent news item indicates that PNC bank will no longer finance the executors of this particularly heinous form of extraction. They follow the good example of seven other financial institutions in exiting this extractive realm of profit-making, and in actual fact, it is a major blow against big coal. In particular, this is a blow to Massey, the largest practitioner of this method, and a known bad actor (the coal mine explosion last year was theirs). These efforts (like changing the lending behavior of banks) are major achievements requiring the concerted efforts of many players. Rainforest Action Network seems to have done the heavy lifting on this victory, and deserves great praise. One suspects there were many others involved that won't receive the accolades they deserve.

On MTR, as with so many environmental tragedies, the first response comes from neighbors whose lives are impacted. Those harried citizens tend to either resign, move away, or fight, a process that quickly becomes life-consuming. This dedicated assortment of people tends to meet, and form regional environmental groups that try to publicize the issue, usually to be ignored by the world at large. If the issue is big enough, and the loyalists persistent, some artists and writers catch wind of the issue and descend with their muck-raking efforts. These then will often come to the attention of a larger environmental organization with the resources, media-savvy, and political connections to make a dent in the problem. Those will then investigate the science behind the issue, send in lawyers, consultants and artists who will assess, interpret, and represent the issue and with that wealth of data start badgering politicians and bankers to regulate and cease financing the nightmare in question. Often that will involve actually flying the decision-makers in question over the sites for an up-close-and-personal experience with the help of a volunteer pilot. This whole coalition of committed partisans will labor for years, the only reward being the hope of clean air and water, against a cabal of recalcitrant politicians and wealthy industrialists who have a lot of skin in the game making piles of extra money by not cleaning up after themselves. The irony here is that the burden of proof is on those fighting to save your air and water. And by the time a groundswell of public outcry sufficient to motivate the politicians to legislate against the menace arises, the offender has already done irreparable damage, taken the money and left town. All that's left is the poor folks living there that sounded the alarm in the first place, and a moonscape and a ruined economy. Oh, and the bankers made out with their cut, as is only proper.