Colorado, energy states rebuke Bank of West’s anti-fossil fuel stance

Bank of the West’s decision to divest from certain fossil fuel investments has run headlong into threats of retaliation in Colorado, Wyoming and other states that rely heavily on coal, oil and natural gas extraction for revenues.

The San Francisco-based bank recently made it known that it would be “investing where we feel we can make the most impact” and withdrawing support for companies and business activities that are “detrimental to our environment and our health.”

That includes no longer doing business with companies whose main activity is tied to oil and gas from shale or tar sands or financing oil and gas exploration or production projects in the Arctic. Nor will it finance coal mines or coal-fired power plants not actively involved in the energy transition. And the company also is cutting ties to tobacco-related businesses.

“As the bank for a changing world, we’re continually seeking to improve the ways we help our customers, while contributing to more sustainable and equitable growth,” the company, which is a holding of French banking giant BNP Paribas, said online.

The stance, which has won support from environmental groups, doesn’t sit well in places like Colorado’s Western Slope where residents rely heavily on traditional energy production for their livelihood.

Bank of the West is Colorado’s fifth largest bank with $4.5 billion in deposits as of June 30, 2017.  It has 75 locations in Colorado, the bank’s second largest concentration of any state after California with 235 locations, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The bulk of the Colorado locations came from the acquisition of Commercial Federal Bank for $1.36 billion in 2004. About two-thirds of the branches are concentrated in metro Denver and Boulder County, but the remaining third are spread across the state, including in communities like Clifton and Craig, home to a major coal-power generation complex.

Moffat County officials were so upset with Bank of the West that they responded by announcing plans to shift about $25 million worth of county transactions to one of its rivals, and a similar move is planned by officials in Sweetwater County, Wyo., according to a story in The Daily Sentinel.

The manager of Bank of the West’s Craig branch, Stacy Razzano, resigned after 27 years at the bank after learning about her employer’s public stance, the Grand Junction paper reported.

Fossil fuels are even bigger business in Wyoming than Colorado — extraction provides about 70 percent of that state’s revenue. Bank of the West is Wyoming’s third largest bank in deposits, and second largest in branches, with about two dozen locations in the country’s top coal-producing state.

Wyoming Treasurer Mark Gordon threatened Thursday to stop depositing state funds for a local lending program that has generated about $63 million in deposits with the bank over the years.

Gordon and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said they will ask state banking regulators to review the bank’s status as a public depository for the state, which could prohibit all state agencies from using the bank for petty cash accounts.

U.S Senator John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, also jumped into the fray. He sent a letter to the bank’s CEO this week saying that while the decision “may be fashionable” in San Francisco, it is misguided and hurts families in Wyoming.

Bank of the West argues its stance isn’t necessarily a new position for the company. “Energy transition has been a focus for years, and is a continuation of a direction that has been under way,” it said in a statement.

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