University of Mary Washington Divests from Fossil Fuels Fredericksburg, Virginia – 4/15/16

This morning, the Mary Washington Board of Visitors made the decision to divest from fossil fuels, according to the PCS recommendation for 98% divestment. The Student Government and University Faculty Council both endorsed divestment prior to this morning’s meeting. President Richard Hurley recommended the course of action, which was then voted on unanimously after a call to vote by BOV member Edd Houck. About 30 students from UMW and universities across Virginia attended the board meeting. Students rallied outside the meeting after the decision, with Sophomore and DivestUMW Co-Chair Sarah Kinzer giving a speech.

“The decision to divest from fossil fuels represents a rejection of the immoral activities of the industry. Companies such as Dominion Power have an unethical hold over our politics in Virginia, exploit our natural resources, and damage our environment. The University of Mary Washington’s rejection of these practices is a crucial first step in the fight towards a just transition away from this irresponsible and damaging industry.” Drew Shannon, Political Science Major, UMW Class of 2019

“This decision is the result of the collective work of hundreds of students over several years. As the first Virginia university to divest, Mary Washington can now proudly call itself an ethical place to learn – one that values the lives of those affected by climate change and acts on those values.” – Sarah Kinzer, English Major, UMW Class of 2018

Blue & Gray: Report of divestment released; BOV to decide on divestment in April meeting (By Kelly Emmrich)

The University of Mary Washington President’s Council on Sustainability released an official report that recommends a 99 percent divestment from fossil fuels. Because of the report, the Board of Visitors has an obligation to make a decision on the issue in their next public board meeting on April 15 and 16.

President Richard Hurley said that he intends to make a recommendation to the BOV on divestment for their April meeting. But according to assistant professor of anthropology and sociology Eric Bonds, what the recommendation will contain has not been made public.

“In August, President Hurley gave us a list of seven questions to answer in an honest and balanced way, weighing potential costs versus benefits of divestment for a small public liberal arts college, and ultimately making some kind of recommendation on the issue,” said Bonds, who is also co-chair with Erin Wysong of the Divestment Subcommittee.

The divestment report is the culmination of all of the deliberation that the subcommittee has done throughout the year. The 23-page report is divided into seven parts that answer Hurley’s seven questions respectively.

1. What are the pros and cons of divesting from the fossil fuel industry?

2. What alternative strategies can the university follow to address the ultimate goal of impacting climate change?

3. What does UMW already do that addresses sustainability concerns?

4. What would the financial impact be on our endowment if we divest?

5. What is the feasibility of divestment, given the investment profile of the UMW Foundation (e.g. disentangling of a specific type of investment from broad-based funds- of-funds)?

6. Determine whether or not any UMW divestment decision would impact relevant industries, global climate change, and sustainability goals.

7. Examine higher education institutions that have divested and report how they did it and the impact of their decision, i.e. return on investments.

The report on divestment says that a reallocation of endowment funds towards sustainable and socially responsible investments would further align UMW investments with UMW values. Sean Morris, sophomore biochemistry major, has a different view of the proposal, believing that the endowment should not be limited.

“An endowment should be an economic resource for a university and not a political tool,” Morris said. “The purpose of the endowment is to create money for our school to use, and frankly we could use all the money we can get. We have plenty of uses for our money to go for, and putting limits on it could backfire.”

Morris is a student member of the divestment subcommittee and he is one of the members who voted against divestment from fossil fuels.

“Just because we do not choose to invest in fossil fuels, does not mean they go away,” Morris said. “We sell our stock we give our voice in a company potentially to someone who cares less.” The final decision will be made on April 16.

Coal Ash 17: A Panel on the Fight Against Coal Ash Wastewater Dumping in VA

Thursday, April 7 @ 7:00 PM. Monroe 346

RSVP HERE

This past January, Dominion Resources, Virginia’s largest energy provider, received permits from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to dump coal ash wastewater into the James and Potomac Rivers as part of their closure of coal ash impoundments. The issuing of these permits has resulted in widespread public outcry, as coal ash wastewater is known to contain toxic pollutants that would taint public water used by thousands of Virginians.

On March 7th, 35 students from the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition occupied The Department of Environmental Quality Headquarters in Richmond to protest these unjust permits and to call for an investigation into the illegal dumping of untreated wastewater that occurred last summer. Seventeen of those students, three of whom attend UMW, were arrested.

This issue is an example of exactly what makes divestment campaigns so important. By investing in fossil fuel companies, we are investing in the injustices perpetuated by corporations like Dominion. Come out on April 7th to hear Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks, Drew Gallagher of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and the three arrested UMW students speak on their experiences, as well as the ways in which environmental action in Virginia coincides with DivestUMW’s campaign.

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UMW President’s Council on Sustainability Releases Official Report on Divestment; Council Strongly Recommends Fossil Fuel Divestment at the University of Mary Washington Fredericksburg, VA – 3/18/16

Almost exactly one year after members of DivestUMW began to sit-in outside of their President’s Office in George Washington Hall, the President’s Council on Sustainability has released their highly anticipated report strongly recommending that the University divest its endowment away from fossil fuel companies. The report recommends one of two options: 1) 99% divestment from fossil fuel companies, or 2) 98% divestment, the standard used by the Union of Concerned Scientists. This report reaffirms both the financial feasibility and the ethical necessity for divestment at Mary Washington. On March 18th, 2015 the Board of Visitors refused the creation of a subcommittee leading to the occupation of George Washington Hall for three weeks, broken only by the arrests of two students and one community member. This action led to the creation of a subcommittee to explore the issue of divestment, the product of which is the aforementioned report. Operating with the information given in this report, the BOV has an obligation to act on this issue in the form of a vote at their next public Board meeting on April 14th-15th, 2016. The Board has a responsibility to reflect the academic research of students, faculty, and their own members, as well as allowing students to continue being a part of this process. “Students have started and continued this conversation at Mary Washington and in Virginia as a whole. We have a right to be present and accounted for in these conversations. The Board has a responsibility to hold itself accountable to its students, and they can do this by having a vote on divestment at their public meeting in April.” – Drew Shannon, freshman. “Our power as students comes from our abilities to mobilize and create conversations regarding the ethical implications of the actions of our University. Student power is the driving force behind not just the creation but the distribution of the report itself. We want to see a vote in April because we need to know that we are not just being heard but listened to, as well. We, as students and activists, have put our bodies and futures on the line for this issue. We are seeing fossil fuel companies harm our communities and the communities of others, and the Board and Administration of Mary Washington has a need to act in ways that will put themselves on the right side of history.” – Noah Goodwin, sophomore.

Some key points from the PCS report are shown below.

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Blue & Gray: Three DivestUMW students detained during Richmond sit-in (By Emily Hollingsworth)

Three members of DivestUMW received summons for trespassing last Monday, March 7 at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in Richmond after participating in a sit-in with other students from Virginia universities. There were 17 students in total who received the summons. The students, Sarah Kinzer, sophomore English major, Rabib Hasan, senior political science major and Katie Armstrong, junior and geography major, were issued the summons with 14 other Virginia students from different universities, including the University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary, Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University. The students held the sit-in in the department’s lobby, located on 629 East Main St. in Richmond. Once the summons were given, police removed the students from the property. None of the students were held in jail, according to Kinzer. All of the students who received the charges will go to court on May 11 for trial. DivestUMW and other Virginia university students, in conjunction with members of Virginia Student Environmental Coalition, began the rally by sending three demands to David Paylor, the department’s director. The demands were that the department repeal permits issued to Dominion Virginia Power to dump coal ash wastewater from the company’s Bremo Power Station and Possum Point power plant, that the department re-issue the current permits only after an investigation of untreated wastewater dumped into Quantico Creek in 2015 is conducted, and that the permits for coal ash wastewater release are rewritten to comply with the Clean Water Act for the best available technology standards. The demands also asked that a mechanism for an independent third party monitoring of the permits is implemented. Paylor was first appointed as director of the Department of Environmental Quality in 2006 by Governor Tim Kaine. He was later appointed by Governor Bob McDonnell in 2010 and Governor Terry McAuliffe in 2014. Paylor is president of the Environmental Research Institute of the States and has been a field biologist, an aquatic ecologist, water resources manager, a director of petroleum programs and director of operations, according to the department’s website. The 2015 incident in Quantico created concern as environmentalists worried that the wastewater would make its way into the Potomac and Quantico waterways, according to a report from The Washington Post. The department reportedly said that the plan was safe and that the two waterways would be protected. A similar incident with coal ash from Duke Energy Carolinas in 2014, where a spill sent 39,000 tons of coal ash and approximately 25 million gallons of coal ash pond water into the Dan River and reached the Kerr Reservoir, led the company to pay $2.5 million to Virginia, according to the same report. According to Kinzer, the recent development with Dominion Virginia Power is one reason DivestUMW wants to work to create fossil fuel divestment from UMW. “This is why DivestUMW’s fight is so crucial,” Kinzer said. “Fossil fuel companies like Dominion have a commanding grasp over our governmental systems. We as an institution need to cut our ties with this industry that abuses our government in order to privilege its own profits over the safety of Virginians.”
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Invest in our future. Divest from fossil fuels.