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Hecklers interrupt PNC annual meeting

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 2:42 p.m.

PNC Financial Services Group's annual meeting was disrupted Tuesday by protesters who want the company to stop providing loans for mountaintop coal mining.

The activists from Earth Quaker Action Team interrupted PNC CEO James Rohr about a dozen times as he addressed shareholders at the August Wilson Center for African-American Culture. Rohr mostly ignored the hecklers and adjourned the meeting after 20 minutes.

“We let the PNC board know that we will publicly hold them individually accountable for their votes to continue financing companies that practice mountaintop removal coal mining,” said Walter Hjelt Sullivan, program director for the Earth Quaker Action Team.

Bank spokesman Fred Solomon said the meeting did not end prematurely or in response to the heckling. PNC's last two annual shareholders meetings lasted roughly 45 minutes, including questions from the floor.

The shareholders meeting was Rohr's last as CEO. He was succeeded Tuesday by President William Demchak. Rohr became executive chairman.

It's not the first time that the Philadelphia-based environmental group protested the company's annual meeting over mountain mining. The group, which also protested PNC's annual meetings last year and in 2011, said PNC customers have withdrawn about $3.2 million from the bank since February 2012 to protest the bank's practices.

Mountaintop removal is considered an efficient but destructive form of surface mining. It involves blasting apart the tops of mountain ridges to expose coal seams and extract virtually 100 percent of the coal but also lets the resulting rocks and debris tumble into streams. Activists said the practice pollutes surrounding waterways and endangers communities.

PNC is one of the most active, major U.S. banks financially supporting companies engaged in mountaintop mining. According to a year-end report by the Sierra Club and the Rainforest Action Network, PNC provided financing in the last three years to mountaintop coal mining companies such as Consol Energy Inc., Alpha Natural Resources LLC, Patriot Coal Corp. and Arch Coal Inc.

The report graded the nation's largest banks, including PNC, for their amount of lending to mountaintop miners and underwriting of their bonds. PNC received a C-, as did Bank of America. Goldman Sachs got an F, and JPMorgan Chase a D+.

The mining method of removing a mountaintop to mine the coal accounts for about 10 percent of U.S. coal production, the National Mining Association said.

“It's more on the decline today, in terms of tonnage,” association spokesman Luke Popovich said. Mountaintop removal employs about 14,000, down from about 17,000 three years ago, he said.

Many of the hecklers challenged PNC directors to take a stand against bank lending to mountaintop mining companies.

Protesters unfurled a banner on the sidewalk after the meeting which altered the bank slogan, “PNC Leading the Way,” to read instead: “PNC poisoning the waterway.”

Separately, a shareholder proposal from Boston Common Asset Management over environmental concerns was defeated. It had asked the board to assess greenhouse gas emissions resulting from PNC's loans and investments.

Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached a 412-320-7854 or at tolson@tribweb.com.

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