Students file new fossil fuel divestment complaint against UNM endowment

UNM LEAF news:

Today, students, faculty and staff at the University of New Mexico (UNM) called on the New Mexico attorney general to investigate whether the UNM Foundation’s investments in fossil fuels violate the law of the State of New Mexico.

The complaint, led by UNM LEAF (Leaders for Environmental Action and Foresight), with the help of the Climate Defense Project, calls on Attorney General Hector Balderas to investigate whether the UNM Foundation, as a public charity with a purpose nonprofit, violated the New Mexico Uniform Prudential Management of Institutional Funds Act (UPMIFA) by investing contrary to its charitable mission.

The stake is estimated at $ 28.95 million of the Foundation’s $ 579 million consolidated investment (or endowment) fund that is invested in fossil fuels.

This is the first time this new legal approach has been applied to a university in an oil and gas state where the companies in which the UNM Foundation invests directly contribute to the degradation of the health and well-being of the state’s residents. , according to the complaint. .

The strategy has been used successfully by students seeking to divest Cornell University. More recently, the strategy forced Harvard University to commit to divesting from fossil fuels in September after students filed a complaint with the Massachusetts attorney general in March.

Unlike other nonprofits, the complaint argues, charities cannot invest to maximize returns at all costs. Their resources must be allocated for socially beneficial purposes that further their charitable purpose. The UNM and the Foundation have many policies and missions that promote the management of crops and the environment, sustainability and the rights of future generations.

UNM LEAF and other signatories argue that investing in the fossil fuel industry contradicts these stated values.

“As students of UNM LEAF, we have been organizing regularly for over two years for UNM to take concrete action on climate change – to divest from the endowment of fossil fuel companies, to upgrade. update the 12-year climate plan and plan for a zero waste campus. by 2030. Unfortunately, we have seen UNM take very little action, ”said Raven Alcott of San Ildefonso Pueblo, senior at UNM and co-organizer of LEAF. “New Mexico will face some of the most serious effects of climate change. Our historically underserved and Indigenous frontline communities will be the ones to experience these catastrophic effects on the land, economy and society. Every dollar invested in the fossil fuel industry is against the future our degree is supposed to guarantee. We refuse to let UNM risk our future.

“They have an obligation to their students, staff, faculty, and the wider community as New Mexico’s largest employer and flagship university, to be a climate leader. We need great institutions like UNM to do their part and take responsibility and take a leadership role to create a renewable and bright future for all of us.

Other signatories include UNM professors, doctors, alumni and UNM student organizations as well as Indigenous organizations such as Dine Care and Pueblo Action Alliance, Tewa Women United and The Red Nation, religious and environmental groups and civic leaders such as Senator Antoinette Sedilillo Lopez, who is a former UNM Law School professor.

The complaint identifies 28 companies the Foundation invests in through its public equity index funds that operate in New Mexico. These companies are responsible for the release of 32 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. as well as thousands of tonnes of NO2 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that generate smog, as well as dangerous air pollutants and particulates, and water and oil spills that have degraded the earth and threatened the lives of Neo -Mexicans, especially those who live in frontline communities.

They also produce enough oil, gas and coal to power 33 coal-fired power plants a year and release 129.7 million metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Most likely, there are more fossil fuel companies operating in New Mexico that are held in the Foundation’s private equity portfolio, but they are not publicly available.

At UNM, over the past two years, UNM LEAF and the UNM Climate Coalition have urged UNM leadership to tackle climate change on many fronts, including investments, but have largely failed. UNM Leaf and the signatories would like to see divested funds invested in clean energy projects and climate change solutions, especially locally in New Mexico.

Divestment efforts at UNM have a long history. From 2013 to 2015, 350NM co-founder Tom Solomon attempted to persuade UNM regents, who oversee the Foundation’s investment policy, of the poor long-term outlook for fossil fuel investments as well. that of the dangers of climate change associated with the continued use of fossil fuels. fuels.

But the Foundation and the Regents rejected this opinion and instituted a policy specifically prohibiting environmental, social and governance (ESG) screens, in which the environmental, social and governance context of an action is taken into account during the ‘examination of the advisability of investing in it. or not. The University of California (UC) is one of many institutions that have adopted ESG filters as a way to reduce portfolio risk. The UC system sold all fossil fuel investments in its $ 126 billion endowment and retirement portfolio in May 2020.

UNM LEAF leader Emily Phan spoke this morning at the international Invest Divest conference, announcing UNM LEAF’s complaint to the Attorney General.

UNM LEAF students and allies will gather from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, October 29 at UNM SUB to call on UNM to take climate action in partnership with the National Day of Action for a Fossil-Free Future .

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