Di­vest­ment idea draws fire

Uni­ver­sity of Denver mulls pro­posal to re­move oil, gas from in­vest­ment port­fo­lio.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jen­nifer Brown

Colorado’s en­ergy in­dus­try went on the of­fen­sive Thurs­day be­fore an ex­pected de­ci­sion by Uni­ver­sity of Denver trustees about whether to pull in­vest­ments from oil, nat­u­ral gas and coal com­pa­nies.

The uni­ver­sity is the lat­est to take on the is­sue of di­vest­ing its en­dow­ment of fos­sil fu­els, pushed by stu­dents con­cerned about cli­mate change.

The In­de­pen­dent Pe­tro­leum As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica‘s fo­rum in Denver marked the kick­off to a na­tional so­cial me­dia campaign — a coun­ter­at­tack on 350.org, a New York-based cli­mate-ac­tivist or­ga­ni­za­tion fo­cused on per­suad­ing in­sti­tu­tions to purge fos­sil fuel in­vest­ments.

The Uni­ver­sity of Colorado, Colorado Col­lege and Fort Lewis, along with Har­vard and the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, have re­jected sim­i­lar stu­den­tled pe­ti­tions in re­cent years. Naropa Uni­ver­sity in Boul­der is the only Colorado higher-ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tion that has pledged to di­vest. Yale, Stan­ford, the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia and the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton have dropped in­vest­ments in coal or other­wise “par­tially” di­vested in fos­sil fu­els.

Pulling in­vest­ments from oil and gas com­pa­nies would have lit­tle ef­fect aside from dam­ag­ing the uni­ver­sity’s abil­ity to fund fac­ulty re­search and stu­dent schol­ar­ships, said the fo­rum’s speak­ers. It’s “a sym­bolic ges­ture, a po­lit­i­cal stunt,” said Si­mon Lo­max, a Denver-based ad­viser to the pe­tro­leum as­so­ci­a­tion’s “Di­vest­ment Facts” project.

Lo­max ac­cused 350.org of us­ing stu­dent ac­tivists at cam­puses across the coun­try to help the group “stig­ma­tize the oil and gas in­dus­try.” And DU me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent Scott Al­ber­toni said there is a mis­con­cep­tion that most stu­dents are con­cerned about fos­sil fuel in­vest­ments or even aware of the is­sue. “If you ask about di­vest­ment, you get a blank stare from my peers,” he said.

But Lori Scott, a DU se­nior ma­jor­ing in gen­der stud­ies and Span­ish and part of the “Di­vest DU” ad­vo­cacy group, said the uni­ver­sity should “not con­tinue to in­vest in the de­struc­tion of the cli­mate and of peo­ple’s lives.” The stu­dent group wants DU to re­move in­vest­ments in the top 200 fos­sil-fuel com­pa­nies.

“Our goal is not to stig­ma­tize the peo­ple who ended up work­ing in the in­dus­try,” she said. “The goal is to change the cli­mate we live in,” in part by per­suad­ing the in­dus­try to move to­ward clean en­ergy.

The oil and gas in­dus­try in­vested $90 bil­lion in zero- and low-emis­sions tech­nol­ogy from 2000-2014, ac­cord­ing to Tracee Bent­ley, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Colorado Pe­tro­leum Coun­cil and a fo­rum speaker. That’s sec­ond only to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s $110 bil­lion, she said.

And Chris Fiore, a se­nior econo-

mist with Com­pass Lex­e­con, which stud­ied uni­ver­sity di­vest­ment for the in­dus­try, said it could cost DU be­tween $68 mil­lion and $250 mil­lion dur­ing the next 20 years if school trustees vote to di­vest. As a pri­vate uni­ver­sity, DU’s en­dow­ment and in­vest­ment profile are not pub­lic, so Fiore’s es­ti­mates were based on DU’s over­all mix of in­vest­ments.

DU would have to spend money to re­search com­pa­nies to de­ter­mine whether they met its en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards, and con­sider whether the uni­ver­sity would in­vest in a com­pany with oil and gas in­ter­ests as well as wind and so­lar power projects, he said. Di­vest­ment by uni­ver­si­ties likely would not af­fect the price of en­ergy stock nor af­fect cli- mate change, he said.

A DU task force to study fos­sil fuel di­vest­ment has held seven hear­ings, from July through Oc­to­ber. The panel, which in­cludes three uni­ver­sity trustees, was formed af­ter an April pre­sen­ta­tion from stu­dents, who fo­cused on the “ur­gency of the cli­mate cri­sis, its en­vi­ron­men­tal costs and the Uni­ver­sity of Denver’s moral obli­ga­tion to com­bat it,” ac­cord­ing to a state­ment by task force chair­man Jim Griese­mer.

The task force planned to meet pri­vately af­ter the pub­lic hear­ings and is ex­pected to write a rec­om­men­da­tion to the full board of trustees for con­sid­er­a­tion at its Jan­uary meet­ing.

At the start of the hear­ings, Griese­mer wrote that the task force agrees with NASA’s find­ings that cli­mate change is caused by green­house gas emis­sions by “hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties.”

“We be­gin our work by ac­cept­ing the re­al­ity of global warm­ing and the prob­a­bil­ity that the burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els is a sig­nif­i­cant, per­haps the ma­jor, con­trib­u­tor to this gen­uine prob­lem, one which all — in­sti­tu­tions and in­di­vid­u­als — have a moral re­spon­si­bil­ity to ad­dress with the sense of ur­gency urged on us by our DU Di­vest DU stu­dents,” he wrote.

Griese­mer did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment for this story. The uni­ver­sity’s vice chan­cel­lor for le­gal af­fairs, Paul Chan, told the task force the school’s mis­sion is ed­u­ca­tion, not en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. Di­vest­ing from fos­sil fu­els would in­crease the cost of man­ag­ing the uni­ver­sity’s en­dow­ment be­cause of staff time, limit DU’s choices of funds and man­agers, and “harm com­pa­nies that are also work­ing on mean­ing­ful change,” he said.

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