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September 28, 2012

US Ex-Im Bank President Fred Hochberg Underwriting Destruction of The Great Barrier Reef, Again?

The US Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), and its president Fred Hochberg, have never met a coal project they don’t like. At times it’s so bad we don’t know what century the institution thinks it is operating in. Now despite a worldwide uproar over their interest in one of the world’s largest coal ‘mega-mines’ in Australia they have been linked to another Australian mega mine (http://reut.rs/NRb26S). Underwriting the havoc this would wreak on the Great Barrier Reef is an unacceptable use of US tax payer dollars and it’s time Ex-Im Bank came clean on its involvement. (click image below to enlarge)
GP Reef Graphic
It’s not surprising to hear over-eager developers link the Ex-Im Bank to these projects because the institution has a long history of supporting fossil fuel projects – and that track record is getting worse. It got so bad that the Sierra Club wrote an open letter to President Fred Hochberg because we have witnessed first hand the destruction these projects are wreaking on communities and livelihoods (check out our blog on the Sasan coal project in India).

But our pleas were callously ignored as President Hochberg ok’d a massive expansion of coal finance in every corner of the globe. From Kusile in South Africa, to Sasan in India, to Xcoal in the US, to these proposed mines in Australia, it appears that Ex-Im Bank cares little for the damage the institution is causing to communities around the world not to mention the reputation of this administration.

The problem however is that the public does. And that public stretches from Australia where the mining would take place, to India where the coal would be burned, to the US where the financing would come from. This global outcry was captured in part by Avaaz’s petition to #savethereef (consider taking a minute to tell Fred Hochberg personally via twitter: @fredhochberg), but also by media scrutiny in India, the US, the UK, and Australia. It appears that while President Hochberg may consider designations like ‘World Heritage Site’ pesky obstacles, the global public considers them treasures.

Which is why Greenpeace Australia’s recent report on massive coal export expansion plans that would trample the Great Barrier Reef, and the global climate, was so damning. They found that if underwritten by institutions like Ex-Im Bank the world would add emissions the size of the country of Canada while increasing traffic through one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. For an excellent visual representation of this lunacy check out Greenpeace’s short video:
So how did President Hochberg react? By quietly talking with another Indian company to finance another mega mine - this time with Adani group, whose record of violations (PDF) would give most institutions pause. Not Ex-Im though. After all, it makes sense that being linked to a scandal plagued Indian coal sector beset by ‘coal-gate’ investigations would be of little consequence if you are willing to finance the destruction of a global treasure like the reef.

But at the end of the day these may be over eager developers looking to increase the perception in the financial community that their projects have legs. The truth is with prices at near 2 year lows the Australian mining community is understandably worried that these projects are no longer viable. That is why the vociferous claims from Adani and GVK may be making their way into the press at this opportune moment.

But if that’s true, it’s easy enough for President Hochberg to condemn these public statements, and publicly dissociate the bank from this scandal. Instead he has been silent which leaves a huge question mark over US involvement. But let’s not put words in anyone’s mouth. Let’s let President Hochberg speak for himself.

So Mr. Hochberg, where do you stand? The world is waiting for your answer.

-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International Program


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