Student Congress at UNC supports divestment in coal

Mar. 07, 2013 @ 12:12 AM

The Student Congress at UNC voted 24-6 in favor of a resolution asking the university to divest its $2.1 billion endowment for coal mining and coal-fired utility companies.

The approval of the resolution by the 30-member Student Congress, which represents nearly 30,000 students at UNC, comes just weeks after 77 percent of students who marked ballots in campus elections voted in favor of a non-binding referendum supporting coal divestment.

Leaders of the UNC Sierra Student Coalition said the resolution, coupled with the approval of the referendum, make a strong case in favor of divestment and for the Coalition to be granted an opportunity to make its case before the UNC Board of Trustees when it meets later this month.

“The administration really needs to give us the chance to present to them, considering all of the support we have from students,” said Erin McAnulty, a spokesperson for the coalition.

McAnulty and other members of the Coalition will use student support to make their case.

“This Student Congress resolution is more evidence that UNC students want their university to stop investing in dirty and financially risky coal companies,” UNC junior Alison Goyer said in a news release.

The students say coal has a negative cradle-to-grave impact on public health, the environment, global climate change and the nation’s economy.

“The coal industry is threatening the futures of today’s college students by cooking the planet and blocking meaningful action on climate change,” Goyer said. “UNC’s Board of Trustees needs to respond to student requests to present and discuss this issue at their March meeting.”

UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp reportedly told students attending a forum to discuss the endowment in November that due to the nature of the endowment, a divestment in fossil fuels is unlikely.

The university has, however, pledged to stop burning coal at its cogeneration power plant by May 2020.

While groups on other campuses are calling on their universities to divest from other fossil fuels, such as oil and natural gas, in addition to coal, the effort at UNC is focused on coal because it’s the most carbon intensive.

The coalition also contends that coal is a risky investment due to low natural gas prices, high construction costs, strict environmental regulations, price volatility and the increased competiveness of renewable energy. 

The coalition’s effort at UNC is part of a movement at more than 250 campuses across the country, including all eight Ivy League schools and many of UNC’s peers.

Since September, the coalition has collected more than 4,000 signatures on a petition in support of UNC divesting in coal.