Trump Administration Up Against Big Banks and the Clock in the Arctic

By Hal Shepherd

Even as the Trump administration runs rough-shod over past precedence, science, and law in a mad rush to sell oil and gas leases in ANWR before its scheduled departure in late January 2020, it’s trying to prohibit banks from refusing to lend money to oil and gas companies for oil development in the Refuge. The proposed Fair Access to Financial Services rule would forbid banks with assets of $100 billion or more from denying anyone a financial service “except to the extent justified by such person’s quantified and documented failure to meet quantitative, impartial risk-based standards established in advance by the covered bank.” 

In a joint statement, giving it’s full support for the bill, the Alaska delegation claims that large banks are promising to “black-list energy development projects in the Arctic, without regard for the people who live here in some of the most economically-challenged parts of the country.” This somewhat, disingenuous argument ignores the simple fact that none of the banks that have developed these policies are refusing to provide finances to people who live in “the most economically challenged parts of the country,” but rather are directly targeting oil and gas companies who intend to drill for oil and gas the Arctic and who happen to be the most powerful and lucrative corporations in the world.   

In addition, the proposed rule directly targets banks attempting to reduce the contribution of carbon producing activities to climate change which is having major impacts on Alaska Native communities and the subsistence resources that they rely upon. The argument, therefore, that such policies harm local Alaska Native communities who rely on Drilling in the Arctic for jobs seems to gloss over the discriminatory effects of carbon producing drilling activity on these same communities faced with unraveling fresh water and marine ecosystems in the rapidly heating Arctic for subsistence.

Based on the fact that President elect Joe Biden has made it a top 

priority to reverse Trump’s push to development oil and gas in ANWR, to permanently protect the Coastal Plain from future development and renew efforts to address climate change, it is questionable whether the rule will stay in effect after Biden’s inauguration on January 20, even if it is adopted. It is telling that, just days after the rule was announced,  Bank of America, the last major U.S. bank to not have developed a policy against drilling in the Arctic, said  that it would not finance such oil and gas activity. Now, with every major U.S. bank unwilling to finance drilling in the Arctic, it is questionable whether such drilling will ever take place as the financing for such activity becomes more and more limited.