WYOMING – Whether it saw the showdown coming or felt surprise at Wyoming’s collective negativity, Bank of the West opened a gusher of political pushback during an election year when it announced corporate social responsibility policies would result in no longer funding companies that frack for gas and oil.
Wyoming Treasurer Mark Gordon was first to seize the opportunity to blast the French-owned, San Francisco-based bank with promises to divest any funds it had with Bank of the West as a means of retaliation. It was also a campaign stumping moment on a platter for Gordon, who is running for Governor.
Political chest thumping followed with predictable reactions from GOP hardliners in a state that lives and dies, economically, on the health of its mineral extractions industries.
Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, the latter up for re-election this year, were fast on the bandwagon.
“It’s very disappointing that the Bank of the West, which has 23 locations in Wyoming, has adopted a policy that that it will no longer do business with companies that engage in the exploration or production of coal, oil and natural gas,” Enzi stated, adding he supported Gordon in pulling petty cash holdings from the bank. “I’m told some Wyoming county commissioners are also considering ending business with the bank. Wyoming has been blessed with a host of natural resources and it is important that federal, state, and local officials show support for industries that support communities across the Cowboy State.”
Barrasso, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, added, “Simply put, fossil fuels are essential to our economy and jobs in Wyoming. While it may be fashionable today in San Francisco to exclude states like Wyoming from lending plans, it will do little to discourage us from pursuing our best future on our terms.”
Blustering continued from the Alta man that wants Gordon’s job. Leland Christensen admonished the bank further, stating, “Bank of the West’s recent radical stance against the coal and oil and gas industries is an embarrassment. Wyoming should work with those who respect and invest in Wyoming workers and Wyoming industries. It’s appalling that a firm who calls itself the Bank of the West would turn its back on hardworking western people.”
Christensen added that he would continue to shun the bank if elected state treasurer this fall.
Teller Talk: Their side of the issue
Bank of the West has not commented specifically on the fallout in Wyoming but its web page is studded with nuggets explaining its stance and fleshing out what the bank calls its CSR, or corporate social responsibility.
In a corporate statement, Jenny Flores, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, said Bank of the West was positioning itself to be a “purpose-driven bank.”
“Together with our parent company, BNP Paribas, Bank of the West has recently made changes in key sectors for CSR to help accelerate the energy transition for the benefit of our world and future generations,” Flores stated. “The shift aligns with our commitment to be a purpose-driven bank. I firmly believe that increasing the company’s commitment to advancing environmental responsibility may yield long-term gains that benefit us all.”
Bank of the West insists it is not anti-energy nor anti-oil and gas, but is hoping to help accelerate energy transition through diversification and investment. Because, as the company states, “There’s no slower word in the English language than ‘progress.’”
And the bank is walking the talk. BNP Paribas, as well as Bank of the West, has committed to reducing its own carbon footprint 25 percent by 2020 from a baseline in 2012.
“We need change now—not incremental change for the distant future. By making tough but necessary choices about what we fund (and what we no longer fund) we are accelerating important transitions in energy, employment equality and social programs that we believe will have a positive impact. We’re anti-waiting, pro-action, and that’s how real change happens,” the company states on its website.
A decidedly European influence is undeniably at the heart of Bank of the West operations. And it does play politics.
In addition to supporting environmental causes like climate change by supporting the Paris Agreement, BNP Paribas also defines policies for ‘controversial weapons’ it defines as “having indiscriminate effects and causing undue harm and injuries.”
As a major European financial institution, BNP Paribas says it recognizes and respects the validity of the position of the European Union Council on cluster munitions, antipersonnel mines, chemical and biological weapons, and nuclear weapons regulated by international conventions and falling under the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports and the UN Arms Trade Treaty.
So how have Bank of the West policies played with its customers? Numerous bank customers in Wyoming have vowed on social media to close their accounts with Bank of the West.
Perhaps two handpicked anonymous replies Buckrail chose at random represent most sentiments:
“Amazing how they will take my 401k rollover money from a coal mine, and loan my family money based on our coal mine income but they won’t support coal, oil or the industries that have made them who they are. Not my bank anymore. I will be moving my accounts and my 401k rollover to a bank that supports energy,” stated one customer online.
Others expressed their support of the bank.
“I switched to Bank of the West when this announcement came. It is important to make hard decisions to ensure the future is a pleasant one for our kids,” read another online statement.
Bank of the West is yet to issue any official statement after the Wyoming fallout but perhaps it is talking through music. The bank recently posted on Facebook its Spotify playlist for millennials titled, “Nothing to Regret.”
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