UIUC Beyond Coal aims to bring our school beyond coal by calling for the university to make public its coal investments and begin a movement toward a truly sustainable university by divesting all university endowment funds out of the "Filthy 15"-- the dirtiest utilities, coal operators and mining companies in the U.S.
As part of the school’s climate action plan, the coal-fired power plant on campus is set to retire by 2017. It is important that the university stay committed to ending its support of dirty energy by disclosing its investments in coal, as well. It’s great that the university has agreed to stop supporting coal on our campus, but if we’re going to bring about the end of our nation’s dependence on coal, we need to stop our financial support of the industry as well. The University of Illinois can do more. By doing so, we will be actively building the clean energy future we all deserve.
What is Divestment?
Divestment is the process of selling an asset for either financial or social goals. Divestment is a powerful way to take a stand against companies involved in an activity that is morally reprehensible. This strategy has been used to send a strong message and to force change in corporate policies and governance. Through divestment campaigns, shareholders (the people and organizations that own corporate stock) take responsibility for the actions of the companies they own and demand change or sell their shares.
Why should the University of Illinois divest from coal-fired utilities and coal mining companies?
Coal has significant health and environmental effects
Coal is a dirty, dangerous fuel—obtaining it destroys mountains, burning it releases hazardous emissions, and disposing of it results in hazardous toxic waste. Every year in the U.S., 21,000 deaths, 24,000 hospitalizations, and 280,000 severe asthma attacks are attributable to the coal industry. Coal is the largest source of mercury pollution in the country, affecting 1 in 12 U.S. women, and damages from the coal industry cost the U.S. $100 billion a year in health costs. Additionally, coal is scorching the planet; it is the largest source of global warming pollution in the U.S. Many universities are profiting from this dirty, dangerous, and increasingly risky industry. Is the notion that growing the value of a school’s endowment is more important than the hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from coal-related illnesses?
Coal is a volatile industry
Coal was once referred to as cheap and abundant, but it is neither. Coal is a risky financial investment for two primary reasons: First, more than half of the U.S. coal fired plants are old, inefficient, and require major costly retrofits—costs that will not be recovered in the course of the plant’s useful life. Second, the price of coal and cost of extraction is going up, while investments in wind and solar reached record levels making coal-fired electricity a financial loser. Utilities and public utility commissions (PUCs) know the risks: Since 2005, utilities and PUCs have canceled plans for 153 new coal plants. These cancellations moved $243 billion away from coal to other opportunities. In 2010, plant closing announcements demonstrated that both larger and younger plants are no longer financially viable as plans for new natural gas plants and alternative energy projects increased.
With plans to retire announced on February 29th, the Fisk and Crawford facilities in Chicago are joined also by seven factories in Pennsylvania and Ohio that have recently announced they were retiring coal, bringing the number of coal power plant shutdowns since 2010 to 100.
What can investments go into?
The fact is, today there are alternative investments that make equal or better returns. The emerging renewables and clean technology industries are among the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. economy. Even investing in the campus itself through programs such as green revolving loan funds can provide real returns while creating educational opportunities. For universities, which are educating and training emerging leaders, the question comes down to whether they are investing in the future, with its new technology solutions that will create jobs and a healthier, cleaner world, or in the past, with its risky dirty energy holdings that are contributing to global problems.