Referendum on coal a success at UNC

Feb. 13, 2013 @ 11:28 PM

Seventy-seven percent of UNC students who voted in a referendum Tuesday agreed with the UNC Sierra Student Coalition that the university should divest its $2.1 billion endowment from the coal industry.

More than 4,200 of students who voted did so in support of the student coalition’s non-binding referendum, which the coalition said will give university officials a clear picture about how students feel about the university’s investment in the coal industry, which the student coalition places at about $100 million.

 “The message is overwhelmingly clear,” said UNC Sierra Student Coalition coordinator Jasmine Ruddy. “Students want UNC’s endowment to take a moral stand on climate change by divesting from coal, the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive fossil fuel on the planet.”

The student coalition has scheduled a news conference today at 12:10 p.m., at the Old Well on campus to discuss the results of the referendum.

  Erin McAnulty, a sophomore from Charlotte and a spokesperson for the coalition, said she expected the referendum to be supported by a majority of the students who cast ballots.

“I was very pleased,” McAnulty said. “We’re going to use this as leverage to try to get on the [UNC] board of trustees meeting for March.”

If granted time to present its case to the board, McAnulty said the coalition will provide its members with further background about the impact coal has on citizens from the “cradle to the grave.”

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.

The student coalition, like other such student groups that have launched similar efforts on campuses across America, is concerned about the environmental and public health impacts of burning coal.

And 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 nearly 4,000 signatures on a petition in support of UNC divesting in coal.