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The Carletonian

The politics of Carleton’s fossil fuel investments

<ir="ltr">Last September the Carleton Responsible Investment Committee (CRIC) recommended to the Board of Trustees that the College divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies. The Board refused to follow this recommendation.  One of the key reasons CRIC gave for their recommendation was that these companies use their political clout to slow the transition to a low carbon economy, a transition which is necessary to prevent catastrophic global climate change impacts. While the Board has recognized the dangers posed by climate change, and has taken steps on campus to address it, the Trustees have refused to acknowledge that the political behavior of these companies is something the College should be concerned about. The purpose of this column is to dispute the Board’s position by looking specifically at how the fossil fuel companies in which Carleton holds stock use their financial power to influence political outcomes and thereby help delay meaningful action on climate change.

According to the most recent data available, Carleton has about $1.3 million in direct holdings invested in four large oil and gas companies:  Anadarko Petroleum, Devon Energy, Noble Energy, and Occidental Petroleum. The Board has stated that it would not divest from these companies. One of the principal reasons for this refusal to divest is the Board’s claim that it does not want ethics or politics to enter into any of its investment decisions. By this blanket exclusion of such considerations, the Board avoided  the responsibility to assess the politics of these companies.

The truth is that these four companies, in contrast to the Board, have no such “no politics” scruples and thrive on political engagement. According to data available at, in 2014 alone they spent over a million dollars to support the successful election of 110 candidates to the U.S. House of Representatives and 32 candidates to the U.S. Senate. In addition they spent over $21 million to lobby on climate change and energy issues during the 2014-15 Congressional sessions.

What did these companies get for their money? According to voting data collected by The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) for the 2015 Congressional session, they got a lot of votes against climate action and clean energy. The LCV ranked legislators from 0 to 100 per cent depending on how they voted relative to LCV’s determination of what the environmental vote would be on issues related to climate change, dirty energy, and clean energy. Full details of the scoring and vote description are available at (Click on Scores and National Environmental Scorecard.)

In the Senate, out of the 32 Senators supported by Carleton’s four companies, 22 scored zero on climate change, 24 scored zero on “dirty energy,” and 26 scored zero on clean energy. This means that the great majority voted against the environment every time! The zero scorers voted:

1. Against recognizing that climate change is real and that human made pollution is a significant contributor.

2. For blocking the EPA’s Clean Power Plan for both new and existing power plants.

3. Against a renewable energy standard of 25 per cent by 2025.

4. Against closing a tax loophole that exempts tar sands producers from paying into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

5. Against establishing a K-12 climate education grant program that would fund curriculum development, teacher training, and sustainable building standards.

6. Against renewing the Clean Energy tax credits. (Despite this negative voting, after deals between Congress and the President, an extension of these tax credits was included in the final FY 16 spending deal signed by the President.)

In the House, out of the 110 House members supported by our four companies, 99 scored zero on climate change issues, 95 scored zero on “dirty energy,” and 42 scored zero on clean energy. The zero scores voted :

1. For blocking the EPA’s Clean Power Plan for both new and existing power plants.

2. For blocking the implementation of Bureau of Land Management fracking rules.

3. For Blocking equalizing drilling royalty rates on public land which are much lower than the rate on offshore or state lands.

4. For accelerating pipeline construction through National Parks and Monuments.  

5. For eliminating all funding to the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which supports important solar, wind, efficiency, and clean vehicle programs.

Carleton has no business being associated with these companies when their political activities are so blatant and extreme on an issue as critical as climate change. Their efforts to slow the low carbon transition are totally inconsistent with Carleton’s commitment to address the problem of climate change. The political and moral climate that supports such action must be called out and changed. By divesting we disassociate ourselves from this action and put a spotlight on it. We can become part of a global movement to weaken those who slow progress.

Contrary to the Board’s position, there is no way to be politically unengaged or neutral in this situation. We cannot turn a blind eye to what these companies are doing. We are undermining the moral and intellectual integrity of the college by claiming to remain neutral. CRIC recognized our responsibility here in its recommendation to divest. It is time for the Board to do the same.

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