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By C.J. BAKER
Powell Tribune Via Wyoming News Exchange 

Bank of the West works to keep state business; meets with SLIB officials

POWELL — This summer, Bank of the West officials began promoting the fact that they’re no longer funding certain fossil fuel-related projects and businesses — prompting State Treasurer Mark Gordon and Gov. Matt Mead to suggest pulling all state funds from the bank.

 

October 17, 2018



POWELL — This summer, Bank of the West officials began promoting the fact that they’re no longer funding certain fossil fuel-related projects and businesses — prompting State Treasurer Mark Gordon and Gov. Matt Mead to suggest pulling all state funds from the bank. 

But after conversations with bank leaders, Gordon indicated last week that he may be open to continuing the state’s relationship with Bank of the West. 

“It sounded to me like there was potential for further conversations and the opportunity to maybe consider solutions that would be beneficial to both the state and to a general understanding about the importance of fossil fuels in our nation and our state’s future,” Gordon said at the State Loan and Investment Board meeting on Oct. 4. 

The treasurer and current Republican nominee for governor, described himself as “very optimistic,” citing the possibilities “of thinking about a total energy approach” with bank officials.

“I think we actually all want to do similar things. I think it’s just a matter of how we get there,” Bank of the West Executive Vice President Ryan Bailey told the state board. 

In discussions with Gordon and Mead, “we actually all are on the same page, about trying to reduce emissions and things like that,” Bailey said. “I don’t think there’s much disagreement amongst that at all.” 

The backlash from the Bank of the West’s fossil fuel policies has already led to governments across the state pulling tens of millions of dollars out of the bank’s branches; Park County Sheriff Scott Steward closed the one small account that the county had with Bank of the West in Cody. 

Bailey argued to the State Loan and Investment Board members who were present on Oct. 4 — Gordon, Secretary of State Ed Buchanan and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow — that Bank of the West plays an important role in Wyoming. 

“We’ve been part of this state for 125 years,” Bailey said. “We’re very involved in the communities.” 

For some of Bank of the West’s 23 branches in Wyoming — including in Meeteetse — it’s the only bank in town, or one of only a couple. 

“We want to retain the state’s business,” Bailey said. 

He said the bank “understands the importance of oil [and] natural gas in the state.” 

“We are not anti-oil and gas and coal; we are pro-energy,” Bailey said, noting that the bank has pledged to finance $1 billion worth of alternative energy projects over a five-year period. He suggested Bank of the West could partner with the state and the University of Wyoming on carbon capture technology and other “energy transition projects” — a reference to transitioning away from fossil fuels. 

The controversy started after Bank of the West began promoting its policies in a series of ads and social media posts. Signs in San Francisco said the bank would “no longer do business with companies whose main activity is exploring, producing, distributing, marketing or trading oil and gas from shale or tar sands” (that is, unconventional development involving fracking); would not “finance oil and gas exploration or production projects in the Arctic”; and would “no longer finance coal mines or coal-fired plants.” 

Secretary of State Buchanan pressed Bailey for an explanation of the bank’s statements about the Arctic and fracking at the Oct. 4 meeting. 

“We’re no longer going to fund exploration of arctic drilling and exploration [involving] fracking,” Bailey explained. “We will still fund companies that are involved in those industries, but the exploration piece of it is what we’re not funding anymore. We’re taking that funding and using it more on clean energy transition projects.” 

Buchanan pressed further on that point. 

“But aren’t those inextricably intertwined — the exploration and the companies that do that exploration and then go into operations?” he asked. 

Bailey agreed that “there’s definitely some intertwining.” However, if the company is doing more than just exploration, “we would still entertain talking to those individuals” about funding, he said. 

He said around 25 oil and gas-related businesses in Wyoming bank with Bank of the West.

 
 

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