Quakers, others protest mountaintop removal at PNC offices

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Singing hymns and chanting slogans, about 200 Quakers and fellow protesters descended on PNC Bank sites in Downtown and surrounding neighborhoods Thursday afternoon, urging the bank to halt its financing of mountaintop-removal coal mining.

The activists, organized by the national Earth Quaker Action Team, said the bank is financing a technique that is causing environmental devastation in Appalachia. Participants included many who traveled by bus to Pittsburgh from the weeklong Friends General Conference, a national Quaker gathering being held at California University of Pennsylvania.

Standing at PNC Plaza, near the construction site of the bank‘‍s new environmentally friendly office tower, EQAT board member Eileen Flanagan said, “It’‍s great they have green buildings, but the biggest impact they have is in lending money.”

Added Nick Mullins, a former fourth-generation coal miner and Virginia native: “We don’‍t see green in Appalachia. We see torn-up mountains, and we don’t see a lot of green money.”

He, his wife, Rustina and their children, while not Quakers, joined the protest while taking part in a speaking tour on mountaintop removal.

In the lobby of PNC’s offices on Fifth Avenue, a group of mostly teenage Quakers sat cross-legged in a circle and held a religious meeting with periods of silence interspersed with song and testimony. Curious office workers filed past without incident.

At at least one other branch, activists said police asked them to leave.

PNC bank spokesman Fred Solomon said the bank would have no comment.

Mountaintop removal involves the blasting away of peaks and slopes to get at coal located scores of feet below the surface. While the mining industry cites the environmental reclamation of former sites, the practice has been linked in studies to species loss, damage to homes, well contamination and the burial of hundreds of miles of streams.

Marcia Bandes of Squirrel Hill, a member of the local Thomas Merton Center, joined in the protest.

The bank should find “find a more creative way to make money” than mountaintop removal, she said.

Peter Smith: petersmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.

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