On the same day that Occupy Missoula protests began on the lawn of the County Courthouse, around forty University of Montana students and Missoula community members visited a local Wells Fargo branch to demand the bank stop funding coal. This action came at an opportune moment, as energy giants like Arch Coal are attempting to turn Missoula into a throughway for their dirty product. By sending Montana coal through Missoula on the way to internal export markets, Arch and other companies hope to get rich by fostering coal dependence abroad.
Concerned citizens in Missoula, a town known for progressive ethics and environmentalism, aren’t going to stand by and let this happen. This morning our group rallied on the UM campus to hear from local business owner Mark Kersting. As the owner of the Stensrud Events Center, located mere blocks from the railroad that passes through Missoula, Kersting’s business is already being impacted by noise and air pollution from existing rail traffic. Increasing the number of coal trains on the line to an extra train per hour every day – something we could see happen if Arch gets its way – would make the problem even worse.
According to Kersting, “Officials here in Missoula are doing nothing to address this problem. The first responsibility of elected representatives should be to protect public health and safety.”
If local, state, and federal government representatives refuse to take action on this issue, cutting off funding for coal projects might be the next best bet for impacted communities. There’s no better place to start than Wells Fargo – a bank which has shown it sometimes responds to public pressure, but which continues to fund coal development. After years of pressure, Wells Fargo has begun to distance itself from the horrendous practice of mountaintop removal coal mining. But the bank is still funding Big Coal, contributing to the pattern that’s enables Arch’s profiteering.
“Wells Fargo is one of the big funders of dirty coal projects,” said UM student Rosa Lincoln at this morning’s meetup. “We’re asking them to fund clean energy and help keep Missoula’s air clean.”
After assembling on-campus, our group embarked on a bike rally through downtown, finishing at a local Wells Fargo branch office. After being turned away at the door by bank staff, we stood on the sidewalks at a busy intersection, with signs calling on Wells Forgo to “Fund the Future, Not Coal” and to “Keep Montana Clean.” Proving that we’re not alone in our concerns, many drivers passing by honked their horns in encouragement or gave us the thumbs-up sign.
Just in case Wells Fargo hadn’t got our message yet, Mr. Kersting made a powerful statement by withdrawing his money and closing his account with the bank, while dozens of UM students stood on the sidewalk and waved our signs close by. “I explained why I was withdrawing my money and why this issue is important,” Kersting said. “This is about the health of our children, and of future generations.”