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PNC defends coal business loans, says they help economy

| Thursday, April 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

PNC Financial Services Group defended itself against critics of its lending to companies engaged in mountaintop coal mining on Wednesday, saying it benefits regional economies.

“While we recognize concerns about the practice, credit that enables these companies to engage in their primary business is economically beneficial to the people of the region,” said bank spokesman Fred Solomon.

About 30 protesters disrupted PNC's annual shareholders meeting Downtown on Tuesday, claiming that mountaintop mining companies facilitated pollution and public health risks because soil and rock removed to reach coal seams tumbles into streams.

Activists from Earth Quaker Action Team interrupted PNC CEO James Rohr about a dozen times as he addressed shareholders. They challenged bank directors to push for PNC to end such loans.

A year-end report by the Sierra Club and the Rainforest Action Network said PNC was among the major U.S. banks most actively lending to such companies.

Solomon said PNC does not fund individual mountaintop removal projects but acknowledged some of its large coal customers derived a “small portion” of their production from mountaintop mining.

Coal mining — including underground mining, which accounts for about 90 percent of production — “offers the sort of family-supporting jobs that have helped miners move into America's middle class,” said Solomon.

According to the National Mining Association, the average U.S. coal miner makes $73,000 a year, excluding benefits.

The association said mountaintop mining is most common in parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky.

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

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