Darwin BondGraham / The East Bay Express & Daniel Tutt / The Daily Californian – 2014-09-12 23:54:33
Capping the Well
Darwin BondGraham / The East Bay Express
BERKELEY, Calif. (September 10, 2014) — One of the first oil wells in California was an 87-foot-deep sump gouged into the earth by San Francisco wildcatters in 1861 at a site they called “Tar Canyon,” roughly six miles northeast of where the UC Berkeley campus is today. The well was a financial failure, but the experience was promising enough that drillers scoured the state searching for black gold. By 1880, California had an oil industry.
The state’s first major petroleum refinery opened that year on the island of Alameda, and from the very beginning, the environmental damage wrought by fossil fuels was evident. In 1881, as much as 3 million gallons of crude was boiled on the edge of San Francisco Bay to make kerosene. The refinery dumped its waste into the bay, killing oyster beds and sparking protests by fishermen against the Pacific Coast Oil Company. The oystermen lost that fight, and Pacific Coast Oil Company went on to become Chevron.
One hundred and thirty three years later, the fight against fossil fuels continues, but with greater urgency, as the environmental effects of carbon-dioxide emissions become devastatingly clear.
“The world we have enjoyed, if present trends continue, is going to be a historical memory,” said William Collins, a senior scientist and professor of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). “Climate change caused by emissions of CO2 from human sources will increase the number of hot days, posing a risk to life of humans and animals and whole ecosystems. It will alter extreme rainfall patterns, and lead to the imposition of long-term droughts, and the sea level rise is likely to be one to two meters globally within the century, causing tremendous disruption in coastal communities.”
Collins, the lead author of two Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessments, and the director of the Climate Readiness Institute, is doing his best to help policymakers tap the talents of UC Berkeley and LBNL scientists and scholars to find technological and policy solutions to global warming.
Collins also recently signed an open letter from UC faculty addressed to the university’s governing board of regents, calling on the board to financially divest the University of California from the world’s two hundred largest fossil fuel companies. “Speaking for myself as a private citizen, I think divestment makes an important statement,” Collins said in an interview.
Activists are increasingly using divestment as a key weapon in their battle against climate change. Divestment is the opposite of investment: When an institution divests, it sells off any financial stakes it has in an industry and avoids funding harmful activities.
American colleges and universities currently have $448 billion in endowment assets and billions more in pensions and operating funds that are invested in everything from California tech firms such as Apple to European insurance companies like Zurich, AG. Institutions of higher education, therefore, finance corporate growth, research and development, and mergers and acquisitions through the investments they make with cash from donors, students, employees, and the public.
Divestment is a controversial tactic because it’s so effective. Divestment by universities and other institutions helped bring down apartheid South Africa, and divestment dealt a powerful blow against the tobacco industry. Convincing institutions to divest from South Africa and tobacco was a big fight because both were politically powerful, and naysayers claimed at the time that divestment would do more harm to schools and students than to apartheid and Joe Camel. The critics were proven wrong.
Divesting from the fossil fuel industry, however, may be a whole other question. A tidal wave of public institutions selling off stocks and bonds of a multitrillion-dollar global industry like fossil fuels probably won’t do much to shift the financial markets — such is the economic power and wealth of companies like Exxon. But divestment would be a profound moral statement with possibly many political impacts. Already, thirteen colleges and universities have committed to some form of divestment from fossil fuels.
Divestment “asks the university to put its money where its mouth is, “said Victoria Fernandez, a senior at UC Berkeley and a leader of the Fossil Free UC campaign.
Kathryn Barnhart, a UC Berkeley alumna, said she joined the divestment movement because she felt powerless to do anything about climate change. “Of course government is totally dysfunctional and frozen,” said Barnhart. “Divestment seemed like an area I could put my energy and see a result. It will send a strong message to politicians.”
Activists like Fernandez and Barnhart hope the message is clear enough to advance national and global efforts to cap and reduce CO2 emissions through treaties, taxes, and massive investments in alternative energy sources. Activists think that the University of California can play an important, if small, role in getting there. Next week, the UC regents will consider the feasibility and desirability of divesting from fossil fuels at their meeting in San Francisco.
But convincing those in positions of power to divest can be incredibly difficult, especially when the targets are arguably the most powerful and profitable corporations in world history. King Coal and Big Oil have deep pockets and friends in all the highest offices, including those in Washington, DC, Sacramento, and even the University of California.
Divestment is also complicated by the fact that UC’s relationship to oil, natural gas, and coal extends far beyond investments made by campus endowments and the system’s treasurer. Indeed, the UC’s numerous ties to the fossil fuel industry — including personal relationships involving some of university’s top officials — run as deep as the Marcellus Shale.
In Pennsylvania, where the natural gas industry is booming, corporations like Halliburton, Exxon Mobil, and Noble Energy drill to depths of 7,000 feet before turning their bits sideways, cutting horizontal lines into the Marcellus Shale formation. By fracking the deeply buried layers of hydrocarbon-rich rock, they force out natural gas. Their techniques have re-opened dormant regions of the country to a new era of mining, yielding billions of profits in the process.
Fossil fuel company stock prices have shot upward as a result. That’s why the University of California’s investments office has spent the last few years buying and selling stocks in these companies. The UC’s financial managers want to harvest the value they’ve gained for the university’s endowment, operating funds, and the schools’ pension system.
Although the UC doesn’t readily reveal the stocks it owns, the ten-campus system, like hedge funds and large private equity firms that hold more than $100 million of stock in publicly traded companies, must file an institutional investor’s report with the Securities and Exchange Commission each year.
Last month, in its annual report, the UC disclosed that it directly owns stock in eight fossil fuel companies, including some of the energy giants cutting holes into the Marcellus Shale: Halliburton, Exxon, and Noble. In fact, the UC’s $7 million stake in Halliburton is the most valuable single direct stock that it holds.
The UC system divides its investments among multiple funds. These include the Short Term Investment Pool (STIP) through which the UC invests mostly in US Treasury Bonds. Treasuries, which are practically as good as cash, can be sold when it’s time to make payroll or cut checks to vendors.
Then there’s the TRIP, an investment pool that is kind of like the STIP, and in which the UC’s cash gets turned into securities (corporate stocks and bonds) that have less “liquidity” and more “volatility,” as they say in the financial business. Less liquidity means that these investments are harder to sell on a moment’s notice, but theoretically come with higher returns.
The UC uses cash contributed to its UC Retirement Plan and the UC Retirement Savings Program to buy up all kinds of securities, including stocks and bonds of corporations, government debt, mortgage debt, real estate, and stakes in private equity funds and hedge funds. The UC aims to invest in companies and commodities that grow in value well above the rate of inflation in order to pay out pensions to faculty, staff, and administrators who make contributions to the fund.
Similarly, the General Endowment Pool, the account into which the regents pour most gifts to the university, invests in all kinds of securities. Finally, each campus maintains its own independent endowment that also invests in stocks and bonds of corporations, private equity funds, hedge funds, real estate, currencies, and more.
Through this maze of funds, which altogether total about $91 billion, the UC owns stakes in hundreds of oil, natural gas, and coal companies. The UC’s General Endowment Pool includes bonds from corporations that drill, transport, refine, and burn fossil fuels all over the planet. The UC, for example, collects lucrative 9.1-percent interest payments from the state-owned oil company of Kazakhstan — KazMunayGas.
The UC also has a multimillion-dollar investment in Naftogaz, the Ukranian national oil and natural gas monopoly. The UC endowment also owns interest-yielding bonds in Gazprom, a Russian corporation that extracts and sells natural gas in Europe. These European and Central Asian energy investments are supplemented by interest payments on corporate bonds that the UC collects from Pemex, PetrÃ³leos de Venezuela, and Petrobras, the behemoth oil corporations of Mexico, Venezuela, and Brazil, respectively.
Through private equity investments, the UC has financed companies that drill, pipe, and refine in all of North America’s major oil and natural gas fields. For example, in 2008, the UC committed $20 million to an investment called the Energy Special Situations Fund II, LP.
Essentially a giant pot of money managed by a small team of professional investors in Houston, the Energy Special Situations Fund II bought stock in companies extracting and transporting oil and natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico to the Rocky Mountains. The fund has earned the UC a 27-percent return, according to a recent disclosure by the board of regents.
The UC Berkeley Foundation, the independent endowment for UC Berkeley, also holds fossil fuel investments, although it contends that it has no direct control over them. “The UC Berkeley Foundation does not directly hold stock in any publicly traded fossil fuel company,” wrote Claire Holmes, UC Berkeley’s associate vice chancellor for communications, in an email to me. “The Foundation’s portfolio is constructed primarily using third-party specialist investment managers running commingled vehicles, which can and do hold varying amounts of such securities.”
I obtained a copy of the Berkeley Foundation’s investments through a Public Records Act request. Much of the foundation’s $1.24 billion in assets are invested through private equity and hedge funds, providing few clues as to where the money ultimately ends up.
Private equity funds and hedge funds, often incorporated as limited partnerships and LLCs in offshore tax and secrecy havens such as the Cayman Islands, rarely have to disclose to the public what companies they invest in. But several private equity funds to which the Berkeley Foundation has committed capital are primarily in the business of financing fossil fuel extraction.
EV Energy Partners, one of these Berkeley Foundation investments, describes on its website the fund in which the UC holds a stake as investing in “the upstream sector of the oil and natural gas industry in North America, leveraging the company’s existing basin positions.” That means the UC’s money was used to buy stakes in oil and natural gas companies doing significant drilling.
A $28 million investment by the Berkeley Foundation in Highfields Capital, a Boston-based hedge fund, links Cal to Alberta’s Athabascan tar sands, among the most environmentally destructive fossil fuel operations in the world. Highfields Capital disclosed in an SEC filing last month that it holds, on behalf of its limited partners (such as the Berkeley Foundation), stock in Canadian Natural Resources worth $855 million. Canadian Natural Resources is in the early stages of mining billions of barrels of bitumen in the northern reaches of Alberta.
Though UC’s money appears to be tied up like a Gordian knot with oil, natural gas, and coal through countless investments, UC Berkeley professor Daniel Kammen said the university’s financial ties to the fossil fuel industry aren’t as extensive as they at first seem. “Exposure of the UC’s portfolio to the 200 biggest fossil fuel companies is actually rather small — like 2.6 percent of total assets — or $2 billion out of $80 billion,” said Kammen. “It’s not a large exposure.”
As the founder of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, and with faculty appointments in both UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group and the Goldman School of Public Policy at Cal, Kammen’s full-time job is studying the scientific and political problems posed by climate change, and advancing solutions.
Kammen supports the divestment campaign as one logical part of a broader movement to reduce carbon emissions and transition to renewable energy. “If UC Berkeley or Harvard or Stanford pulls out of a company, it reverberates,” he said. “It totally changes the tenor of a conversation. The companies will say to themselves, ‘We have two choices — we can keep doing this, or we can actually readjust what we do.'”
Kammen thinks that if companies such as Exxon, Shell, and BP are confronted by a wave of public institutions financially divesting from them, they will step up their efforts to adjust their businesses, eventually abandoning fossil fuels and transforming themselves into green-energy developers. “We don’t need fossil fuels — there’s plenty of sun, wind, geothermal, and biomass,” he said. Kammen backs his opinion up with data; his laboratory runs models showing that it’s possible to run California on a renewable, low-CO2 emissions energy base.
“I don’t think the big oil companies should go away. They should take all those smarts and capital and invest them in these new energy sources,” said Kammen. Divestment by the UC would be one powerful prod to show the oil companies in which direction they should move.
For the past century, the biggest energy companies have moved squarely toward oil, natural gas, and coal. And ever since the fossil fuel industry set up shop in the East Bay in the 1880s, the UC has worked with Big Oil to expand the extraction and consumption of dirty energy.
In 1872, just four years after the founding of the University of California, a petroleum prospector named Robert S. Baker paid the UC Regents $750 to secure 120 acres of land in the hills north of Los Angeles. Wells drilled on this claim, and nearby patches, produced significant flows of crude, so Baker and his business partners set up the Star Oil Works. Star was eventually bought by the Pacific Coast Oil Company in Alameda, where much of Southern California’s oil was transported for refining.
At the Pacific Coast Oil Company’s East Bay lab, a young UC Berkeley-trained chemist named Eric Starke invented several methods for refining California’s smoky crude oils. By mixing and heating kerosene with sulfuric acid, he was able to make the fuel burn brighter, with less smoke, allowing California oil to compete with the clean-burning eastern distillates.
The patent for this invention, along with a growing number of oil claims, the refinery in Alameda, and California’s rapidly expanding market for fuels, prompted the Standard Oil Trust of New York to buy Pacific Oil in 1900. By the 1920s, California was one of the biggest oil producing states in the nation.
Standard Oil (which eventually became Chevron) always had strong ties to the UC, as did California’s other big oil companies, such as Union Oil and Associated Oil. The profitability of research — such as Starke’s sulfuric treatment — led the oil companies to fund academic studies at the UC and other state schools, leading eventually to the establishment of the department of petroleum engineering at Berkeley.
In his history of oil, The Prize, Daniel Yergin noted that California’s oil companies were unlike the eastern and southern companies in that they retained college-trained geologists and relied on academic scholarship.
In the 1950s, Chevron sponsored faculty seminars for scientists from UC Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford, and other schools to share research. Oil companies routinely recruited UC faculty members to assist in engineering new drilling and refining techniques. And with the expansion of offshore oil drilling in state waters in the 1960s and ’70s, the UC grew from royalties paid by the industry to the state, using the oil money to pay for dorms, labs, and classrooms.
From 1900 until 1988, there was hardly a year that passed without an oil tycoon sitting on the UC Board of Regents. The most influential by far was Edwin Pauley, founder of Pauley Petroleum and a close confidant of Ronald Reagan during his terms as governor and president. Pauley, a regent from 1940 to 1970, used his oil wealth to lobby for the expansion of offshore drilling along California’s southern coastline.
In 1944, Pauley reportedly offered vice-presidential nominee Harry Truman and the Democratic Party a campaign contribution of $300,000 if the federal government would drop federal claims to California tidelands so that Pauley’s firm could tap the undersea basins of petroleum and natural gas, some of the largest in North America. In the 1960s and ’70s, Pauley pushed the state’s legislators aggressively for permits to establish new oil and natural gas platforms close to UC Santa Barbara’s oceanfront campus.
After students erupted in protest over the 1969 blowout and oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel, a California deputy attorney general accused Union Oil, the company responsible for the massive spill, of buying all the university experts and sowing fear among academics who might use their science to contradict industry.
These sorts of ties between the UC and Big Oil are by no means history. Chevron’s CEO John Watson is currently a member of the UC Davis Chancellor’s Board of Advisors. The San Ramon-based Chevron — California’s biggest fossil fuel company and the ninth largest in the world — funds research across the UC campuses and at the three national labs managed by the UC.
In June and July, Chevron made two grants, totaling $850,000, for oil- and natural gas-related research to UC Berkeley scientists. UCLA’s Chemical Engineering Department is directly funded by the Western States Petroleum Association and nine oil and natural gas companies, including BP, Shell, and Texaco. And the UC’s Los Alamos, Livermore, and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories all receive millions annually from the Department of Energy’s Fossil Energy Research and Development program to produce technologies that directly aid oil, natural gas, and coal corporations.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Although the UC trumpets its visionary research on renewable energy and conservation, the university continues to pursue the technological priorities of the nation’s dominant corporations, especially fossil fuel companies, which wield influence directly through grants they make to the UC and through lobbying to shape federal research funding priorities.
The question of whether or not the UC can help lead the nation away from fossil fuels isn’t so much a matter of whether its scientists and engineers can devise the most clever clean-energy technologies, be they advanced solar cells or green-energy storage batteries.
The UC has shown time and again that its scientists and scholars can push the limits of technology and knowledge in any area. Instead, the real answer as to whether the UC can take the lead on energy and climate will be determined by the political choices the institution makes with respect to fossil fuels.
To make the UC a true leader in the fight against climate change, its students have been trying to convince the board of regents to follow them. Students began to rally around the idea of divestment more than a year ago, and attended regents meetings to explain their plan, which focuses on the UC dropping its investments in the two hundred largest oil, natural gas, and coal companies.
Students also passed referendums at nine of the ten UC campuses calling on the regents to divest. “We don’t just represent a few environmental groups or our campaign,” said Victoria Fernandez, a UC Berkeley student and a leader in the divestment campaign. “Those of us asking for divestment, we represent pretty much all UC students.”
In January, student leaders of the Fossil Free UC campaign met with regents Norman Pattiz, Bonnie Reiss, and Paul Wachter, and together they decided to create a task force to study the UC’s investments.
The task force members include Fernandez and Alden Phinney, a student at UC Santa Cruz; regents Pattiz, Reiss, and Wachter; professor Kammen of Berkeley and professor Mary Gilly of UC Irvine; and several advisers with scientific and investment expertise. The task force is led by the UC’s new Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Bachher.
“The task force has had several meetings, and is continuing to meet, in preparation for presenting its recommendations to the UC Board of Regents at the September meeting,” said UC spokesperson Steve Montiel. “Determining how best to invest UC funds is ultimately the responsibility of the board of regents.”
Montiel said the task force will make its recommendation through Bachher to the regents’ committee on investments. The committee on investments will then make a recommendation to the entire board of regents, which is expected to consider the issue at its upcoming meeting on September 17 and 18 in San Francisco.
Students, however, have been disappointed with the task force so far. “We’ve video conferenced three times, once for one hour, and most recently two hours, but it has been pretty frustrating because the quality of the deliberations hasn’t been that good,” said Fernandez.
Still, Fernandez said some of the regents really care about the issue and seem to be leaning toward action. Pattiz, a media industry executive, told students that the purpose of divestment is “to make a splash,” and to “sway public opinion.” Fernandez said Reiss, who served as education secretary under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006 and now runs the Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, “seems to really care about the issues, and cares what the students think.”
But still, the task force has only met for a total of four hours. What’s more, several of the task force’s advisors, and one guest that Bachher invited to speak, are firmly opposed to divestment, perhaps telegraphing what Bachher’s ultimate recommendations to the regents will be. During the second meeting of the task force, Bachher invited Peabody Energy CEO Gregory Boyce to argue against divestment.
Peabody Energy, which used to be more accurately named Peabody Coal, is one of the world’s largest coal companies. And Peabody is very attuned to the controversial nature of its business model and to its tenuous future. As Peabody executives explained in their company’s most recent annual report: “The potential financial impact on us of future laws, regulations or other policies will depend upon the degree to which any such laws or regulations force electricity generators to diminish their reliance on coal as a fuel source.”
To counter any efforts to reduce carbon emissions from coal, Peabody spends millions each year lobbying the US Congress, and the company, with help of public relations strategists, has devised a message to counter climate activists: “Energy poverty is the world’s number-one human and environmental crisis,” said Boyce in Peabody’s 2013 Corporate and Social Responsibility Report. Peabody officials say they care about the poor and the developing world, and that cheap coal energy will lift people and nations out of poverty.
Last year, Kammen spoke out against the construction of a massive coal marine export terminal being built by Peabody and Goldman Sachs in Washington state. In an op-ed, he wrote: “It’s time we stopped feeding such fossil dinosaurs and started investing seriously in U.S. innovators, workers and companies that can help realize our low-carbon future.”
Fernandez said that she and other pro-divestment members of the task force asked that another outside guest be allowed to counter Boyce’s perspective, but were told there wasn’t enough time. The UC’s investments office did, however, hire Ophir Bruck, a UC Berkeley alum and divestment activist to work with the office in an effort to identify fossil fuel investments in the UC’s portfolio and demonstrate the feasibility of divestment, said Dianne Klein, a spokesperson with the UC president’s office.
Terry Tamminen, a friend of Regent Reiss, and also a former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency during the Schwarzenegger administration, is a task force adviser who also doesn’t support divestment. In a July column in Fast Company magazine Tamminen opposed university divestment from the fossil fuel industry, arguing that “instead of the blunt instrument of divesting, what about civilizing these companies and our own consumer choices while we’re at it?”
Tamminen and Reiss have long preferred soft approaches to environmental problems, while steering clear of proposals that would restrict certain environmentally destructive business practices — like the digging up and burning of oil, natural gas, and coal. The two also have a history of creating green business ventures aimed at making a buck off saving the environment.
For example, Tamminen’s nonprofit, Seventh Generation Advisors (which is funded by grants from foundations with fossil fuel investments), helps run R20, an international organization that promotes and subsidizes green energy projects. One R20 initiative involves the promotion of energy-saving LED streetlights. The LED lights also happen to be manufactured by a company that Reiss and Tamminen have financial interests in: Lighting Sciences, Inc.
A controlling share of Lighting Science’s stock is owned by Pegasus Capital, a private equity fund that lists Reiss and Tamminen as advisors. Reiss also was a director of Lighting Sciences and obtained more than 200,000 shares of stock in the company.
Like Reiss and Tamminen, regent and task force member Wachter is a close confidant of former governor Schwarzenegger. Wachter’s investment company Main Street Advisors, manages Schwarzenegger’s money, in addition to the fortunes of other wealthy individuals. Whether Wachter is leaning for or against divestment isn’t clear. At a regents finance committee meeting in May, he said the board was taking the idea “very seriously.”
Wachter’s personal investments, which state law requires him to disclose, show that he doesn’t directly own stock or bonds in any oil, natural gas, or coal companies, but some of the thirty hedge fund and private equity funds in which he invests hold fossil fuel company securities.
Other members of the board of regents have big personal investments in fossil fuels, and ties to the state’s still-booming oil industry. Regent Russell Gould owns stock in the Alleghany Corporation, a holding company that owns two oil companies. Gould is also a lobbyist with California Strategies, an influence firm that counts fossil fuel companies Halliburton and Sunset Exploration among its clients.
On August 26, a bill sponsored by state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson to ban offshore drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel — the exact patch of ocean that regent Edwin Pauley was so intent on drilling — died in the Assembly. State records show that Sunset Exploration, which is partnering with Exxon to drill in California’s coastal waters, employed California Strategies to lobby the legislature to kill the bill. Gould did not respond to a request for an interview for this report.
Regents Monica Lozano, Richard Sherman, and Charlene Zettel also reported significant personal investments in oil, natural gas, and coal companies.
Finally there’s Bachher, the UC’s chief investment officer. The UC hired Baccher from the Alberta Investment Management Company (AIMCo), the government pension fund and endowment of the Canadian province. Alberta is like a snow-capped version of Saudi Arabia. Its economy is based heavily on oil, but in Alberta’s case, the oil is in fact much dirtier than Middle East crude.
A lot of Alberta’s oil is mined from tar sands deposits. In addition to strip mining vast expanses of the earth, obtaining oil from tar sands also requires enormous CO2 emissions to refine the bitumen and transport the oil to markets, mainly in the United States. AIMCo invests heavily in fossil fuel companies, particularly those based in Alberta. For example, AIMCo holds $154 million worth of stock in TransCanada Corporation, the company behind the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline.
In 2011, Bachher wrote a paper titled “China, India, and Alberta,” in which he called Alberta a “veritable bank vault of natural resources,” focusing on Chinese and Indian investments in Canada’s oil and natural gas industry, and Alberta’s economic future as an exporter of fossil fuel products.
But Bachher also has strong ties to renewable energy companies. He previously served on the boards of two wind turbine makers and a biofuels manufacturing firm. He also has won praise for making alternative energy investments a priority.
When the UC regents convene next week in San Francisco to discuss divestment, all these intimate ties to the fossil fuel industry — research grants, business partnerships, past careers, and of course the existing investments by the regents, both of their personal fortunes and the UC’s wealth — will be hovering over the board.
Even so, proponents of divestment are confident that momentum is on their side. After all, support for fossil fuel research in the UC is matched by the growing support for renewable energy research. Alongside oil stocks and bonds, the UC’s portfolio also includes investments in solar and wind companies. And the UC’s faculty members today have extensive ties to companies and organizations trying to build the post-carbon energy future.
“We don’t see any reason why divestment from coal can’t be a decision that’s made by December,” said Fernandez. She pointed out that, in May, Stanford’s trustees decided to drop coal from its $18 billion endowment. “It’s a no-brainer at this point,” said Fernandez.
“It’s laughable that we’re still debating this in California,” said Kammen. “We pay a significant cost for pollution. It’s municipal governments that pay for lost water, health costs.”
But the debate goes beyond economics, explained Kammen. “This is an environmental justice issue. Oil refineries get located in poorer towns. It’s immoral to expose the poor to this pollution. Each reason is a slam dunk by itself, but altogether it’s a no-brainer.”
Barnhart hopes the regents are paying attention to how other schools have approached the issue of divestment. “We’ve been in touch with Pitzer College’s trustees,” said Barnhart. “They’ve divested totally from fossil fuels. The head of their investments committee told us that they went about divestment from point of view of, ‘How can we make this work?'”
“First they decided to do it,” said Barnhart. “Then they figured out how to do it.”
“I think some of the [UC] regents really get it: This is the issue of our time,” added Fernandez. “But I think they feel that they have these other obligations like fiduciary duty. That’s why student input is so important. The regents are operating at a very different level, but our generation will experience climate change and disruption more intensely. We have much closer proximity to the issue.”
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Task Force Calls for UC ‘Sustainable’ Investments,
Rather than Divestment
Daniel Tutt / The Daily Californian
BERKELEY, Calif. (September 10, 2014) — The UC Task Force on Sustainable Investing chose not to recommend that the University of California divest funds from fossil fuel companies, instead advocating a “framework for sustainable investment” that would consider environmental and social factors.
The recommendation, announced Wednesday, will be presented to the UC Board of Regents’ Committee on Investments on Friday. The regents will vote on the recommendation at their upcoming meeting, which takes place Sept. 17 to 18, and, if approved, would proceed in implementing the framework before the end of the current fiscal year.
The task force is an 11-member group of financial experts, UC faculty and student representatives. UC President Janet Napolitano and Regent Bruce Varner, who is also the chair of the board, instituted the group in June to address concern over the university both investing in fossil fuels and committing itself to sustainability.
“It was a victory in that it was not a ‘no’ on divestment, but the process was extremely discouraging,” said Victoria Fernandez, a UC Berkeley senior, member of the task force and coordinator for Fossil Free UC, a campaign urging the university to divest. “We hope that divestment can continue forward.”
Fernandez said the task force made a series of phone calls that did not include students and invited coal advocates to present their views, while the student representatives were not able to invite divestment advocates.
UC spokesperson Dianne Klein said students were always consulted and there were no sidebar meetings. The student representatives were the only ones to vote against the recommendation, she said.
“Today’s announcements show the very real commitment of the University of California to invest our human and financial assets in finding solutions to global climate change,” Napolitano said in a statement.
Divesting funds from fossil fuels would mean that the university would stop investing in companies with high fossil fuel reserves. Currently, $3 billion of the $91 billion managed by the university is invested in these companies, according to Klein.
Rather than divestment, the task force’s plan calls for including environmental and social concerns in investment decisions and creating a culture of awareness about these concerns in the Office of the Chief Investment Officer of the Regents.
The plan also calls for the allocation of $1 billion to “solutions-oriented” investments such as renewable power and fuels, among other things.
“We believe we now have an effective plan of action to both protect and bolster the long-term returns for the university and to make a significant contribution to climate change solutions,” said Jagdeep Singh Bachher, UC chief investment officer and head of the task force, in a statement. “We could have made a narrow divestment decision, but the university is not in the business of taking the easy route.”
But fossil fuel divestment is both economically and environmentally sound, according to Daniel Kammen, a campus professor of energy.
“It is very unlikely there will be foregone profits. Fossil rules carry a significant risk over time,” Kammen said. “Divesting is a prudent economic as well as environmental approach.”
Fossil Free UC plans to continue advocating divestment at the regents’ committee meeting Friday and at the board meeting Sept. 17 to 18.
Daniel Tutt is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @danielgtutt.
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