Countrywide takes back seat at BofA meeting

Activists press CEO Ken Lewis over financing of U.S. coal mining activities - and say little about controversial $4 billion deal.

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By David Ellis, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- Forget Countrywide. What about the environment?

Instead of facing tough questions about the planned purchase of the troubled mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp., Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) Chairman and CEO Kenneth Lewis spent a good portion of Wednesday's annual shareholder meeting listening to stinging complaints about his bank's commitment to the environment.

Groups such as the Rainforest Action Network and the Free Enterprise Action Fund pressed Lewis about the bank's decision to finance "dirty energy" projects, such as coal mining activity in the Applachia region of the United States.

"While these [issues] are of moral concern, they are also the bank's concerns," said a representative of the Rainforest Action Network. "You cannot bail out a dead planet."

Lewis said his company was working to find a practical solution that is fair to all parties.

Still the Countrywide (CFC, Fortune 500) issue was not overlooked altogether. Lewis defended the $4 billion all-stock deal that was announced earlier this year, even as Countrywide has witnessed its home loan portfolio deteriorate further in recent weeks.

"I've had a lot of people ask me why I chose to do this now," said Lewis. "My answer is that now is the time because the price is right, and our deep due diligence confirmed our beliefs that there is great long-term value embeded in Countrywide."

Lewis added, however, that his company would work to help struggling homeowners who are at risk of losing their homes, including one North Carolina woman who begged the CEO to let her stay in her home, which will go into foreclosure early next month.

"The last thing Bank of America wants to do is foreclose," said Lewis. "We will do everything we can to not have that happen and we will work with borrowers to find a solution."

If approved by both federal regulators and shareholders, the deal would make Bank of America the nation's leading mortgage lender and loan servicer.

Separately, all of Bank of America director candidates were elected to the company's board, while all eight of the shareholder proposals failed to win approval. To top of page

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