Protesters Don't Want ‘Toxic’ Bank to Come to Rhode Island

Local climate activists are tired of Chase Bank backing up the Brink’s truck for fossil-fuel projects. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News photos)

Local climate activists are tired of Chase Bank backing up the Brink’s truck for fossil-fuel projects. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News photos)

Since the Paris Agreement was signed three years ago Chase Bank has invested nearly $200 billion in the fossil-fuel industry

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — A few calls to the police exemplified, perfectly, the societal challenges we face when it comes to addressing a disaster in progress.

On a sunny, near 90-degree day, protesters, some dressed in yellow hazmat suits and others holding homemade signs, warned passersby of a New York City-based bank that is bringing “toxic fossil-fuel assets” to Rhode Island. A handful of passing pedestrians and motorists immediately called the police … because their commute through the intersection of Thayer and Angell streets had been slightly inconvenienced.

Less than half an hour after the July 10 protest began, police arrived and spoke with organizers. Police, who were professional and polite and did nothing to impede the protest, said they had received a few calls about the intersection being blocked. They instructed protesters to stay out of the street and keep the sidewalks passable.

The 50 or so people who were demonstrating in front of the future Chase Bank branch had done little to obstruct traffic beyond publicly protesting the bank’s substantial funding of fossil fuels. This reporter witnessed a few people fussing because they had to make their way through more people than this section of sidewalk normally accommodates on a weekday during lunchtime.

The fact a few pedestrians were annoyed that a 20-foot section of sidewalk was briefly more Manhattan than Providence or a few motorists were frustrated because they idled through two light changes doesn’t make them bad people.

But it does illustrate why this country has been so ineffective in stopping, or even slowing, the burning of fossil fuels and why big banks are still funding this destructive practice. Mitigating the impacts of climate change isn’t viewed as a priority. It’s seen as an annoyance.

The protesters targeted Chase Bank, formerly J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, because of its propensity to fund the fossil-fuel industry. The bank, set to open its first Rhode Island branch next month, has invested $196 billion in tar sands, arctic drilling, and fracking during the past three years.

Since President Trump took office, Chase has quadrupled its investments in tar-sands oil and has increased its financing of coal, according to a new report.

The multi-organization report found that several major U.S. banks have increased their investments in fossil fuels every year since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016, with Chase Bank lending the largest amount to the most fossil-fuel projects worldwide. Chase is responsible for $1 out of every $10 of fossil-fuel financing provided by the 33 major global banks the report tracked. The top four fossil-fuel financing banks are all based in the United States.

The protest was held at the location where Chase Bank is set to open its first Rhode Island branch, 234 Thayer St. in Providence. The activists want Rhode Islanders to reject the New York City bank until it changes its practices.

The protest was held at the location where Chase Bank is set to open its first Rhode Island branch, 234 Thayer St. in Providence. The activists want Rhode Islanders to reject the New York City bank until it changes its practices.

Members of the local activist groups Climate Action Rhode Island (CARI) and Sunrise RI, who organized the recent protest, said Chase Bank is enabling the global climate crisis. They said the bank’s investment choices are helping to endanger the environment and public health.

The protest was held at the location where Chase is set to open its first Rhode Island branch, 234 Thayer St. It’s the beginning of the bank’s move into Rhode Island, with plans to open another eight or so branches, and is part of Chase’s larger move into the New England market.

The activists want Rhode Islanders to reject the banking behemoth until it changes its practices.

Brian Wilder, a CARI member who helped organize the protest, noted there are many environmental action groups across the country that are calling on Chase and other too-big-to-fail banks to divest from fossil fuels. The Cranston resident said this nationwide movement is part of a global objective that is working to expose those — coal, oil and gas corporations, banks, insurance companies, and Wall Street institutions — that continue to profit from the burning of fossil fuels. This movement wants to use public opinion against those who see mitigating climate change as nothing more than an obstacle in the way of making an obscene amount of money.

“By funding these fossil-fuel projects, Chase Bank is poisoning the planet and profiting from climate change,” Wilder, a retired union representative and community organizer, told ecoRI News a week before the protest. “Government is paralyzed, so our only alternative is to go after corporations that are profiting off fossil fuels. Chase is a fossil-fuel profiteer and thus a toxic bank.”

The global scientific community has repeatedly warned there is no more room for fossil fuels in the planet’s carbon budget if damage from climate change is to be limited. Last October the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report documenting the devastating impacts the continued burning of fossil fuels will have. With atmospheric carbon dioxide at nearly 414 parts per million, the world is already experiencing climate-related devastation. The number of climate refugees will only continue to increase.

But, as CARI member Greg Gerritt noted before the protest, “Chase continues to pour money into finding more fossil fuels.”

“Chase Bank has a long history of investing in and profiting from things that are bad for our communities and it’s time to stop them from overrunning our environment and all of us,” Gerritt said.

The Providence resident also spoke at the protest, noting that billions and billions of dollars have been lost because of flooding, drought, hurricanes, and storms caused by a climate being changed by greenhouse-gas emissions. He said our collective focus needs to shift away from growing the business climate to protecting the real climate.

“We have to start thinking that we need a sustainable economy. An economy based on communities rather than corporations,” he said through a megaphone outside the entrance of what used to be the Paragon. “It is time to stop the fossil-fuel industry in its tracks. We have to stop them now. Shut them down. Tell them no new stuff and everything else is getting phased out.”

Chase Bank is responsible for $1 out of every $10 of fossil-fuel financing.

Chase Bank is responsible for $1 out of every $10 of fossil-fuel financing.

The protesters called on Rhode Islanders to boycott Chase Bank until CEO Jamie Dimon stops funding the fossil-fuel industry.

“Our ask of Chase Bank and CEO Jamie Dimon is simple: listen to the science, acknowledge the crisis, and stop funding fossil fuel extraction,” Nicole DiPaolo, a CARI member, is quoted in a July 5 press release announcing the protest. “Until they respond, we call upon Rhode Islanders to boycott Chase Bank. We will not sit by as flooding, wildfires, droughts, heat waves, and other effects of human-induced global warming cause widespread devastation, suffering … We want corporations and policy makers in the U.S. to take accountability for their role in this, and make choices that protect our health and the future of life on earth.”

Five days later, at the July 10 protest, DiPaolo spoke passionately about the environmental damage Chase is funding. She led chants of “Don’t bank with Chase,” “Chase is toxic,” and “Chase Bank’s got to go.” She led the singing of several songs with such lyrics as “Storm surge and fires burn but you don’t hear the call … because fossil fuels keep paying you … does it weigh on you at all.”

This spring Wilder, DiPaolo, and Matthew Mellea from Sunrise RI sent Dimon a letter asking him to cancel the bank’s expansion into Rhode Island until Chase has stopped bankrolling fossil-fuel projects.

“Years ago, Chase Bank publicly indicated that it was reconsidering its full-throttle funding of fossil fuel projects, and yet since then you have significantly increased such funding … both for existing projects and for new projects,” according to the May 29 letter. “Thus, Chase bank (sic) has already proven itself to be a bad corporate neighbor.”

There are plenty of examples of Chase’s disregard for others, even its own employees. Six years ago the bank agreed to pay $5.1 billion in restitution for mortgage fraud, which included foreclosures on people who weren’t even Chase customers, and another $13 billion to settle charges that the bank overstated the quality of mortgages it was selling to investors in the run-up to the 2007-08 financial crisis.

Two years ago, Chase paid $55 million to settle a lawsuit that claimed it charged thousands of African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher interest rates on mortgages than white customers. Bank employees have accused Chase of allowing its retirement fund managers to pick in-house investment products over cheaper rivals, costing employees “tens of millions of dollars in losses” to their 401(k)s.

Chase Bank is the largest U.S. bank when it comes to assets, with access to $2.74 trillion. Dimon’s 2018 compensation totaled $31 million.

Dimon and other Chase executives have gone out of their way to criticize the non-binding Green New Deal. Michael Cembalest, a chief investment officer, wrote the company’s 2019 annual energy paper, Mountains and Molehills: Achievements and Distractions on the Road to Decarbonization. He concluded that the Green New Deal’s goals were “not a useful foundation for a serious policy discussion.” He also wrote, “This sets a goal that cannot be achieved. At best, the Green New Deal is a slogan to galvanize support for change; at worst, it’s a sign of how little work its proponents have done.”

Cembalest’s paper claims the Green New Deal “mandates zero net emissions for the US by 2030 for the entire energy sector (not just from electricity generation), and does so while phasing out nuclear power and relying heavily on carbon sequestration by forests.” Most of that quote is a lie.

The resolution — which by definition can only inspire change, not mandate it — calls for only the full decarbonization of the electricity sector by 2030. It calls for the decarbonization of other sectors, such as transportation, over the next decade “as much as is technologically feasible.” The resolution doesn’t mention nuclear power, and carbon sequestration is one of many strategies the document offers.