Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Major banks become more skeptical of coal lending

First Energy's Mansfield plant in Shippingport, Pa.
(Photo by Andrew Rush, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Demand for coal "has been dropping as competing fuels become less expensive. And in the past few weeks, coal companies have seen major banks turning their backs on the industry in public," Anya Litvak reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "News that Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Bank of America had all released coal-lending policies that pledge to decrease credit availability to the sector met with much fanfare a few week ago around the time of the Paris Climate Conference, where world leaders met to hammer out an agreement on keeping global temperature at manageable levels."

The banks have not completely abandoned the industry. Wells Fargo "was a leading underwriter of $700 million in bonds for Consol Energy Inc. and Cloud Peak Energy this year," Litvak notes. "The unifying theme in all these coal policies is added scrutiny in risk assessment and senior level approval of loans to the industry, although some banks have made specific pledges. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, for example, said they won’t fund mountaintop-removal mining and won’t give money to companies that do a lot of it. They also won’t finance new coal power plants in the U.S. and other developed nations, although those aren’t being built anyway because of tightening environmental regulations and competition from cheap natural gas."

Citigroup, "the leading bank providing financing for Alpha Natural Resources’ bankruptcy reorganization . . . said it would continue to decrease its coal financing activity, but didn’t rule anything out," Litvak reports. "Funding for projects would require senior approval, the bank said, and would be based on 'due diligence' and the coal company’s environmental, safety, and corporate governance performance, as well as human rights."

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