Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Sunday October 11th, 2015, 9:47am

Environmentalists Take Aim At Morgan Stanley Over Coal Industry Financing

Environmentalists are putting pressure on Morgan Stanley to cut its financing ties to the coal industry as part of a larger disinvestment campaign aimed at big banks.

Organizers with the environmental group Rainforest Action Network (RAN) urged the investment firm to end its financing of coal mining and coal power during Friday protests held outside Morgan Stanley branches in nine major U.S. cities, including Chicago.

"Morgan Stanley is one of a few remaining large banks that is still funding dirty coal," said Chicago RAN volunteer Charlie Ryan, who distributed flyers about the anti-coal campaign outside a downtown Morgan Stanley location at 440 S. LaSalle St.

"If you look at some of the things they're doing, for example, they continue to finance mountaintop removal. Mountaintop removal is one of the worst ways to mine coal. They blow up the mountain. They don't repair it."

The environmental campaign against Morgan Stanley comes just days after Citigroup announced it is scaling back its financing of coal projects due to climate change concerns. That news followed similar moves earlier this year by Bank of America and the french bank Credit Agricole, both of which also cited plans to reduce their respective coal-mining financing.

RAN and other environmental groups have been pressing major U.S. banks for years to reduce their lending to coal companies and projects.

Now, RAN is turning its attention to Morgan Stanley as the group's next big target. RAN's efforts come a few months before December's major United Nations climate change conference in Paris. RAN is one among 130 organizations encouraging the global banking sector to take action and accept the "Paris Pledge" and "quit coal." They hope to get the banks to accept the challenge ahead of the December climate change conference.

Activists are calling out Morgan Stanley, in part, over the firm's financial relationship to large coal-fired power plant operators, including German electric utility RWE, the biggest emitter of carbon emissions in Europe. 

"Morgan Stanley has conducted half a billion dollars worth of coal mining deals in 2014 and continues to lend to companies like Peabody Energy, the world's largest private sector coal mining giant," RAN senior campaigner Ben Collins said in statement. "Morgan Stanley also financed $1.2 billion for the largest coal fired power plant operators in the world last year, while continuing to finance mountaintop removal coal mining, at a time when eleven of Morgan Stanley's competitors have committed to cut financing for this horrific practice."

A Morgan Stanley spokesperson declined to comment about RAN's protests, but the company did direct Progress Illinois to its eight-page environmental policy statement. Morgan Stanley, the statement read, is "aware of the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions" and is "committed to considering environmental issues in all aspects of our business."

On the coal issue, Morgan Stanley said it "will not finance companies for which a predominant portion of their annual coal production is from (mountaintop removal) activities as an extraction method." The investment firm has also established an "enhanced environmental due diligence process on any commercial lending and investment banking transactions involving a client engaged" in mountaintop removal mining.

"Morgan Stanley is committed to engagement with clients, regulators and policy makers to establish and enhance strong climate policy globally," the statement added. "We believe that the best way to reduce emissions is through a mix of technology changes, encouraging the transfer of clean energy technologies, improved energy efficiency and well-structured global markets for financing and trading emissions reductions."

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