Democratic senators ask banks to prohibit funding Arctic drilling

A group of 15 Democratic senators wrote to 11 major banks last week asking them to ban funding oil and gas drilling or exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

“The scale of your banks’ assets individually, let alone together, give you the ability to drive change in protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in shifting towards a U.S. financial sector that effectively analyzes and plans for climate risks,” the senators wrote.

“We respectfully urge you to reassess your current environmental and climate policies and update them to include a prohibition on funding for oil and gas drilling or exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” they continued.

Their letter follows a December announcement by Goldman Sachs that it would prohibit financing for new drilling or exploration in the Arctic, including in the refuge. 

“As one of the largest banks operating in the United States, we write to ask that you join your peers in the U.S. and abroad and commit to stop financing of oil and gas drilling and exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” the letter stated.

“Protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is not only intrinsically important, it is also critical in the broader context of wilderness protection, Indigenous rights, working to combat climate change, and preparing the U.S. economy to weather the growing impacts of the climate crisis,” it added.

Their letters were addressed to executives at JPMorgan Chase & Co.Bank of America Corp.Citigroup Inc.Wells Fargo & Co.Morgan StanleyU.S. BancorpPNC Financial Services Group Inc.TD BankCapital One Financial Corp.Citizens Financial Group Inc., and HSBC North America Holdings Inc.

A Wells Fargo spokesperson told The Hill that the company does not directly finance oil and gas projects in the Arctic region, but may extend credit to companies operating there.

The letters were signed by Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Senate Democrats and is a leading contender for the party’s presidential nomination, also signed the letter.

A provision in a 2017 tax bill opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling following years of debate over the matter.