Students want UNC to drop coal investments

Feb. 05, 2013 @ 05:43 PM

A student group at UNC is calling on the university to divest its $2.1 billion endowment from the coal industry over the next five years.

The UNC Sierra Student Coalition is holding a “teach in” today from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., in the Anne Queen Lounge at the Campus Y to educate students about “Y Campaigns.” The campaigns include the student coalition’s effort to convince the university to divest from what it calls the “Filthy Fifteen,” or the worst major coal mining and coal-fired utility companies in the U.S.

“We [UNC] really pride ourselves on sustainability,” said Erin McAnulty, a sophomore from Charlotte and a spokesperson for the coalition. “Passing the resolution would send a real large message to the entire nation that climate change is the greatest threat we have in this generation.”

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, McAnulty said.

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. 

UNC has pledged to stop burning coal at its cogeneration power plant by May 2020.

The university’s Student Congress has already approved a referendum for the Feb. 12 student elections that will allow students to vote in support of asking UNC to remove its investments in coal over the next five years.

If the referendum is approved, it will be non-binding.

But it could give the UNC administration a clear picture of how students feeling about the university’s investment in the coal industry, which the student coalition places at about $100 million.

“We’re just trying to send a message to the administration that it’s an issue that the students of this university really care about,” McAnulty said.

The coalition’s effort at UNC is part of a movement at more than 190 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 from coal.