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Thursday, July 17,2014

Put your money where your mouth is

Students ask CU to divest from fossil fuels 

By Steven Kreimendahl
Katie Raitz

At the most recent University of Colorado open Board of Regents meeting, Katie Raitz took the opportunity during open comments to talk fossil fuels, fossil fuel companies and why the University of Colorado should divest from them.

“After demonstrated student support, will you divest CU’s endowment from fossil fuels?” Ritz asked the Regents.

While several regents did ask followup questions, there was no definitive answer given as it was asked during an open comment session.

The University of Colorado Foundation, as of their June 30, 2013 report, has more than $26 million invested in gas and oil companies, down more than a million dollars in value from the year before.

Raitz says the focus of the current campaign by Fossil Free CU is to show how the divestment would benefit the campus by bringing in talented leadership and students in the environmental and social entrepreneurial fields. It could also improve the university’s public image, says Raitz, something that CU has been working hard at in the past several years.

“We really want to be looking at it as a positive,” says Raitz, who has been working with the school’s treasurer about the logistics of moving investments out of the fossil fuel industry.

Speaking with the Board of Regents came after a two-year attempt by Fossil Free CU to get the measure supported on the Boulder campus by CU’s leadership.

In the spring of 2013, Fossil Free CU got more than 1,000 student signatures to get a referendum question on that spring’s student government elections. The question asked students: “Do you support a decision by CU and the CU Foundation to remove all university endowment investments from the fossil fuel industry?” 65 percent of voting students said yes.

The success of the ballot question led to a resolution being passed in April 2013 by the CU Student Government urging the University of Colorado and University of Colorado Foundation to reinvest their fossil fuel holdings.

One week later the student body and student leadership indirectly got a response from the administration. CU President Bruce Benson was asked at a town hall meeting if he would support divesting from fossil fuels.

“I’m not going to do that,” replied Benson, who notably got his career started in the gas and oil industry and is the founder and owner of Benson Mineral Group.

“When the leadership said ‘no,’ we had to further our tactics,” says Raitz.

The goal of talking to the Board of Regents during the open comment session is to put the issue on the regents’ radar, says Fossil Free CU member P.D. Gantert. The group intends to bring it back up to the regents until it becomes an agenda issue.

“The next step is to make it a public hot topic thing,” says Gantert.

Simón Mostafa, a member of Fossil Free CU, says the group has found latent and passive support of divestment within the student population, but it’s not an issue that is in the front of students’ minds. Many students the group talked with were surprised that CU was invested in fossil fuels due to its environmentally friendly values.

Mostafa says the administration is not yet feeling the pressure for divestment, so the pressure needs to be increased to the point it cannot be ignored. In the upcoming semester, the group plans to work to increase visibility and recruitment of students, faculty and alumni.

The group also plans to work with fossil fuel divestment groups from the other CU campuses to bring more peo ple to the table with the regents.

Raitz says that CU should divest from fossil fuels as the chancellors of the three CU campuses are signatories on the 2007 American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, calling for institutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strive toward becoming climate neutral.

The CU administration has become hypocritical in their actions, signing the Climate Commitment but ignore their investments, Mostafa says. He argues that the university is no longer reflecting the values that they themselves promote.

The Fossil Free CU movement is not just about the divestment from fossil fuels, says Raitz, it is also about environmental impacts, social justice and having the administration represent their students.

“It’s reminding the administration that they do have accountability to the students,” says Gantert. That component was what originally sparked his interest in the issue.

Though there has been no definitive response to the student body and leadership’s disapproval of CU’s investments in fossil fuels, as for the Board of Regents, Gantert says, “At least they were paying attention.”

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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