Pitt releases fossil fuel investments, students call for divestment

Nine months after they promised to do so, Pitt administrators have revealed that the school invests $26 million in the fossil fuel industry, information requested by a student group that wants Pitt to divest such holdings.

The group, the Fossil Free Pitt Coalition, requested the information last year and will present the investment information to the Student Affairs Committee of Pitt’s Board of Trustees Feb. 25 at 9:45 a.m, according to a press release FFPC sent Thursday, Feb. 11.

At the meeting, FFPC plans to ask the Committee to recommend that the Board of Trustees divest the money and invest it elsewhere.

FFPC representatives will present their case for divestment, and propose two plans for the University to divest all direct investments in the large coal, oil and gas companies it invests in within three years. The group will also ask the University to screen the remainder of the endowment’s direct holdings and commingled funds and cease all investments in the fossil fuel industry within five years.

“It’s a critical time because it’s a very time-sensitive issue,” FFPC core organizer Sage Lincoln said. “Climate change is the biggest threat to all current issues.”

Kenyon Bonner, Pitt’s interim vice provost and dean of students, granted the students the meeting, when he and other administrators met with the students on Feb. 9, the release said. University spokesperson Ken Service confirmed in an email that the group is “being given an opportunity” to meet with the committee.

Lincoln said the University did not release the information in April because it had not purchased the Carbon Underground 200 list — which details the 200 largest coal, oil and gas companies based on their reserves. FFPC — which consists of 32 Pitt-recognized student organizations — spent nine months raising $600 to buy the list and give it to the University. The University then used the list to analyze its direct investments and come up with the numbers presented in the press release, according to Lincoln.

Service declined to comment on Pitt’s investments in the fossil fuel industry.

Lincoln, a senior geology, ecology and urban studies major, said she met with Bonner and Chief Investment Officer Amy Marsh on Feb. 9, where Marsh disclosed the University’s approximate direct investments in the fossil fuel industry.

According to Lincoln, Marsh said that the University has invested $2 billion of its endowments in commingled funds, which in turn invest their money in many different companies. Some of those commingled funds might invest in companies that make fossil fuels.

The University invests the remaining $1.6 billion of its endowment directly in stocks and bonds, according to the release. Marsh told Lincoln and the other students that the University has invested approximately $8 million in coal companies and approximately $18 million in oil and natural gas companies, the release said.

“We are thrilled that the administration has provided us this information and the opportunity to present to this committee, and we are looking forward to moving this issue ahead with the Board of Trustees,” Lincoln said in an email. “We believe that fossil fuel divestment is the fiscally and morally logical action, and we are excited to share the information supporting this to the Board.”

Currently, the three- and five-year goals are FFPC’s only official plans to help the University divest from the fossil fuel industry.

Pitt is not the only university to invest its endowment in the fossil fuel industry, according to GoFossilFree.org.

Divestment campaigns at universities across the country have been successful at schools, such as Syracuse University and University of California, according to GoFossilFree.org.

“This argument makes a lot of sense, it’s not just us saying it,” Lincoln said. “This is a good idea both from a financial and moral standpoint.”

According to Lincoln, the Student Affairs Committee members will hear the students’ pitch and then decide if they will propose the students’ ideas to the Board of Trustees.

In order to divest, the Board of Trustees must direct its Investment Committee to take the students’ campaign into account during the investment process.

FFPC met privately Feb. 13 and Feb. 15 to decide who they will send to represent the group at the Student Affairs Committee meeting, but has not yet publicly released those students’ names.

The next Board of Trustees meeting is Feb. 26 at 10:30 a.m. in the William Pitt Union.