ROCK SPRINGS — Sweetwater County commissioners met Tuesday and discussed developments in the county’s relationship with Bank of the West after it declared it will not do business with companies affiliated with oil and natural gas production.
“We will no longer do business with companies whose main activity is exploring, producing, distributing marketing or trading oil and gas from shale and/or tar sands,” Bank of the West announced in a statement.
The bank added it will not finance oil and gas projects in the Arctic, coal mines or coal-fueled power plants not making an effort to transition to renewable sources. It will also terminate all financing and investing as it relates to tobacco products.
“We’re investing where we feel we can make the most impact, like advancing diversity and women entrepreneurship programs, financing for more small businesses, promoting programs for sustainable energy, and withdrawing support from companies and business activities that are detrimental to our environment and our health,” Bank of the West stated on the company news blog.
County commissioners were taken by surprise by the news. Each commissioner expressed their disapproval and a desire to withdraw funds and terminate business with the bank. They added they wanted to be cautious and not overreact.
Commissioner Wally Johnson calls the decision a “major disappointment” considering the bank did not consult them or give any prior warning. He will not only advocate for pulling the county’s funds from the bank, but he will also stop doing personal business with Bank of the West.
Sweetwater County Treasurer Rob Slaughter discussed the county’s options with the commissioners, saying it won’t be as simple as transferring money from Bank of the West to another bank. Slaughter explained that Bank of the West was able to collateralize the county’s funds to a level acceptable financially, whereas other local banks were not.
He also noted that he has good working relationships with other local banks and will be negotiating other options with them.
The county has had good business dealings with the bank in the past, having formed excellent working relationships with its local employees. Commissioners noted they have no gripe with those individuals.
“The people I represent make their living here, and in my point of view we should terminate business with them. That’s no reflection on the people that work there,” Commissioner John Kolb said.
Johnson noted this decision doesn’t only affect Sweetwater County, but the state as a whole with its economy rooted in oil and gas. With Bank of the West cutting business ties, there will be an opportunity for other banks to take on that business.