UNC students make pitch for coal divestment

Sep. 25, 2013 @ 08:34 PM

Members of the UNC Board of Trustee’s Finance and Infrastructure Committee were impressed Wednesday by UNC Beyond Coal Campaign’s pitch urging the university to divest in coal.

But the committee decided against the student group’s request to form a working committee to explore and develop strategies to divest the university’s $2.2 billion endowment from coal

Board members said they were reluctant to give the OK for such a committee without first knowing exactly what its mission would be and without having a broader discussion so the board could hear other opinions.  

Committee members agreed to have a conversation about how to proceed with the working committee request.

 “Having further discussion about what we’re really trying to accomplish with this seems to make some sense in my mind,” said Trustee Jeff Brown. “A presentation of a working group, bringing a group together, faculty, students and others at this point without a clear definition of what that working group is doing is where my hesitation comes in at this point.”

But Christy Lambden, UNC’s student body president and an ex officio member of the board, said he thought the students provided a definition of what the working group would seek to do.

 “I’m just going to push back a little bit on that one,” said Lambden, referring to Brown’s remarks. “I think we’ve heard a pretty clear definition from both [committee chairman] Steve [Lerner] and the students who came to present on what we want to see and that’s not looking at specifically how to divest but a working group to look at both sides of the argument and the effect coal has in our realm and on a national level.’

Tait Chandler, a student with the Beyond Coal Campaign who spoke to trustees, said he also thought the goals of the proposed working committee were well defined.

Chandler said he thought the experience was still a positive one in spite of the committee’s deciding against establishing a working committee to weigh divestment.

 “The board received us very well,” said Chandler, noting that students received a lot of comments from trustees.

Earlier Wednesday, students from the campaign rallied on the steps of the Wilson Library in support of divestment before leaders met with the board committee.

“Our university’s administration has denounced dirty coal and is committed to ending its use on campus, yet the school continues to fund and profit from it being used elsewhere,” said Layla Quaran, co-director of Outreach for the Campus Y.

Coal has been a big topic on the UNC campus. In addition to the efforts by the Beyond Coal Campaign, the university has pledged to stop burning coal at its cogeneration power plant by May 2020, citing concern about the impact on the environment and on the health of residents who live near the plant.

  Last year, the Student Congress at UNC voted 24-6 in favor of a resolution asking the university to divest its endowment of coal mining and coal-fired utility companies.

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

The effort at UNC is part of a larger movement taking place at more than 300 campuses across the country, including all eight Ivy League schools and many of UNC’s peers.

While groups on other campuses have called 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.