Wall Street checks out of coal mines

Coal miners operate a carbide-tipped shearer as it scrapes coal at a mine in Wind Ridge, Pennsylvania.
Ty Wright | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Few Wall Street banks are still willing to get their hands dirty in the coal business.

Under pressure from government officials and environmental advocacy groups, a growing number of top financial services firms are scaling back their financing of coal mining operations.

This month, JPMorgan Chase and PNC Financial announced new policies restricting their activity supporting mountaintop removal, a particularly destructive coal mining process. It comes after banks such as Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America announced commitments to back away from financing the coal industry, although the language in each firm's environmental statements tends to vary.

"The major banks are first movers on this," said Amanda Starbuck, climate and energy program director with the Rainforest Action Network, an environmental group that has pushed for banks to exit financing coal development projects. "The bank that has the furthest to go is Goldman Sachs; the bank has not cut financing for coal mining on a sectorwide basis."

Late last year, Goldman Sachs issued a statement and said it would be "selective" in coal project financing. Yet Goldman's work financing coal sector deals has been less than most large banks in the U.S. and in Europe, on a dollar basis. Starbuck was also critical of policies announced by Deutsche Bank, whose policies on coal project financing she said lacks transparency.