Student Sierra Coalition urges WVU to withdraw from PNC Bank - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Student Sierra Coalition urges WVU to withdraw from PNC Bank

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A Sierra Student Coalition protest outside West Virginia University's Mountainlair student union Feb. 25 drew attention with a banner that read, "Without Mountains We're Just 'eers."

"People were curious about, why are we not having mountains?," said coalition President Hannah Spencer. "We had quite a few people stop, got quite a few signatures on our petitions."

The students gathered in protest of WVU's involvement with PNC Bank. PNC is one of the largest financiers of controversial mountaintop removal coal mining, according to a coalition media release on the event.

WVU currently maintains a close relationship with PNC through a five-year contract with the bank.

"They function as our student aid disbursement agent," explained WVU Senior Associate Vice President for Finance Dan Durbin.

When students are due refunds — when financial aid and payments exceed the amount of tuition — students are entitled to refunds, Durbin said. Rather than the university writing thousands of checks, it outsources that to PNC. The bank opens free checking accounts for students and places the money directly in those accounts, making the refunds faster and safer, he said.

PNC also maintains a branch in the student union and provides ATMs across campus — the only ATMs on campus, he said.

The form of strip mining protested by the students and known as mountaintop removal mining is used to extract coal from seams unprofitable for traditional underground mining.

The process releases heavy metals that leach into ground water and spreads particulate matter in the air. The coalition pointed to studies showing that communities surrounding mountaintop removal sites have higher rates of deadly cancers and birth defects and decreased vascular function due to airborne particular matter.

In 2011, PNC wrote loans to four of the five largest coal companies in the country -- Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal, Patriot Coal Co. and Consol Energy, the coalition said.

With its growing base of customers in Morgantown, PNC has greater capability to fund loans for mining companies that conduct mountaintop removal, the coalition said.

The Student Sierra Coalition plans to seek signatures one more time on a petition urging WVU President James Clements to ask PNC to remove its support for mountaintop removal mining before the contract expires in 2014, Spencer said.

It may also present to him a list of signatures from students who have said they would close their accounts with PNC if the bank does not withdraw its support for mountaintop mining.

"Students have other choices," the media release read. "They don't have to feed the destruction of their own communities."

Other banks in Morgantown — BB&T, United Bank, or Huntington National Bank — do not support MTR that is destroying the state, the release read.

Durbin noted that two representatives of student government were on the committee that came up with the arrangement with PNC in response to student requests for services.

Students are free to express themselves, said Assistant Vice President for University Communications Becky Lofstead.

"WVU is a place where ideas and freedom of expression flourish, and certainly free speech is encouraged as long as it's peaceful and doesn't' interfere with classes," Lofstead said.

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