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For Immediate Release, September 12, 2009

Contact: Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 522-3681

Verizon Apologizes for Sponsoring Mountaintop Removal Rally
Is It Enough to End Service Cancellation Threat? Center Asks Members to Determine by Online Vote

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— Verizon Wireless has formally said "I Can Hear You Now" to a coalition of 47 conservation and faith organizations who sent a group letter asking the company to withdraw its sponsorship of an anti-environmental Labor Day rally put on by the coal industry in West Virginia.

Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, received a letter today from Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam, stating that the company’s sponsorship of the rally was “not an expression of support for mountaintop removal coal mining or in opposition to climate legislation” and that “Verizon supports the goals of policy makers who are committed to reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment.” The letter was dated September 10, 2009.

Suckling responded today with a letter thanking Verizon for its statement in favor of greenhouse gas pollution reduction. But he raised concerns that the company chose to not withdraw support for the rally and did not issue its pro-environmental statement until after the anti-environmental rally was over.

“Verizon is a large corporation and we appreciate the impossibility of being able to review or even know about every decision of its regional offices. Once the controversy became public, however, the national office did know about and did decide to continue participation in the rally. Indeed, Verizon is listed as a “sponsor” to this day on the rally’s official Web site, which continues to present the purpose as denouncing “environmental extremists” who believe in global warming and oppose mountaintop mining. Verizon has not asked Massey Energy Corporation to remove it from the sponsor list, thus it is a sponsor despite its efforts to nuance the situation otherwise.

Thus our objection—and the objection of the more than 81,000 people who contacted you—is not satisfied by the invocation of local decision-making.

Suckling also noted that Verizon, in direct contradiction of it own corporate responsibility policy, justified ignoring the rally’s environmentally damaging impact because it was able to make a profit doing so

“We are disturbed by your attempt to justify Verizon’s presence at the rally by stating your interest was in the financial benefit of selling phone service to the rallyers, not in supporting the purpose of the rally. Verizon could invoke this same logic to sell phones at a rattlesnake-killing contest or a union-bashing parade. The entire concept of corporate responsibility — a theme your letter is at pains to assert — is grounded in rejecting the position that financial decisions should be made without consideration of social and environmental impacts. Your claim to corporate responsibility is directly contradicted by your assertion that having a profit motive justified supporting an anti-environmental rally.”

However, in recognition that Verizon did apologize to some degree, Suckling informed McAdam that the Center would not unilaterally drop its Verizon phone service as previously threatened. Instead, it will put the question to its 225,000 members and supporters to decide:

“This controversy began with my August 30 letter to you stating that we would cancel our Verizon phone service — informing our 225,000 supporters why — if Verizon did not withdraw from the rally. Verizon did not withdraw from the rally. However, out of respect for Verizon’s current effort to distance itself from the rally and express some level of support for reducing greenhouse gas pollution, the Center for Biological Diversity will not unilaterally cancel our phone service. Instead, we’ll provide a copy of your letter to our supporters and let them decide. It is their money that pays our phone bill. It is fitting to let them decide if Verizon’s explanation is satisfactory.”

The voting will commence Sunday, September 13 and end Friday, September 18. It will occur at:

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