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Fossil fuel overture sent to the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee

June 21, 2014

The group charged with advising the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on socially responsible investing will review how the church might leverage its holdings in fossil fuel companies to influence their environmental impact under a referral adopted Friday by the 221st General Assembly (U.S.A.).

The Assembly voted 469-110 to refer a proposal from the Presbytery of Boston that would have ordered the church's Board of Pensions and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Foundation to immediately stop such investment and liquidate any holdings within five years.

Instead, the Assembly opted to refer the proposal, with comment, to the Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee, "for action and discernment in accordance with its long-standing and detailed procedures to engage with individual corporations to advance their actions in support of important social policy issues."

In addition to asking MRTI to report to the 222nd General Assembly (2016), the Assembly Committee on Immigration and Environmental Issues added as comment that it "is deeply concerned about both the need for action and the need to remain in dialogue with companies that are in the fossil fuel industry.”

MRTI implements GA policy related to socially responsible investing. If the church has investments in a corporation whose activities conflict with church policy, MRTI attempts to get the company to change its behavior though methods such as correspondence, dialogue, voting shareholder proxies and shareholder resolutions.  If engagement with a corporation fails, the committee may recommend divestment to the General Assembly.

The recommendation came to the floor of the Assembly by just a one-vote margin in committee.

On Friday, the Assembly rejected a minority report that urged the Assembly to declare that the church will “categorically divest from fossil fuels within five years.” The minority report also asked the moderator to appoint a seven-member committee to work alongside MRTI to “develop a comprehensive strategy for full divestment from fossil fuel companies.”

Those favoring the minority report contended that the urgency of the environmental crisis demanded a timeline be established. Action must be taken soon “to avoid catastrophic damage to our environment,” said Gina Struensee, a ruling elder from the Presbytery of Winnebago. Many scientists agree that greenhouse gas emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels must be reduced or the world will face disastrous climate change.

Bobbi White, a teaching elder commissioner from the Presbytery of Western North Carolina, was among the commissioners who voiced confidence in MRTI. “They have done well on other things,” she said. “MRTI can work with companies to help move them away from fossil fuels” to alternative energy sources.

MRTI already has a record of engagement with fossil fuel companies, said MRTI Coordinator Bill Somplatsky-Jarman.

“MRTI is not starting from square one,” he said. “It has a history of 25 years on engaging companies on these issues.” He said the committee has successfully lobbied corporations to reduce carbon emissions and has used the church’s position as a corporate shareholder to encourage the development of environmentally friendly energy sources.

Some commissioners said changing corporate behavior is just one part of the solution. They pointed to the need for individuals to help reduce carbon emissions by consuming less energy.

“The root of the problem is us,” said Walter Jancura, a ruling elder commissioner from the Presbytery of Upper Ohio Valley. He noted that the United States consumes a disproportionate part of the world’s energy.

“I’ve spent the last 35 years as an electrical engineer, and I think we need to look at the log in our own eye before we try to take the speck out of someone else’s,” he said.

  1. Fossil fuels have dramatically improved our quality of life. Now they're destroying our climate. Fossil fuel companies have 5 times the resources we can afford to burn and are determined to produce them all. We need to align our investments with our values and our theology. We need to divest from fossil fuel companies.

    by Dan Terpstra

    July 1, 2014

  2. Cheap energy in the form of fossil fuels has made the U.S. the greatest country in the world. There is a direct correlation between energy consumption and living standards. Oil, gas and coal are truly gifts of God and have impelled the human race to reach heights never before imagined. However, we need ALL forms of energy to continue our efforts to improve life for everyone on this great planet. We will NEVER be able to abandon fossil fuels so why be so foolish not to embrace it as we are. Who, in their right mind wants to pedal their bike to the next GA meeting? THANK GOD FOR FOSSIL FUELS.

    by Roy Koerner

    June 30, 2014

  3. How many people out there power there homes and vehicles with nothing but solar and wind power? How's many people making it to a presbytery meeting did so without using fossil fuels? All the batteries used to make solar and wind power and hybrid vehicles viable...where will they be dumped in the future and what form of contamination will they generate? All those lovely wind turbines...how many fossil fuels and mineral will be dug up to make them? How many acres of land will be consumed by solar farms? How many bird will die for the use of wind turbines? When will people learn no solution is cost free and without consequences?

    by David

    June 25, 2014

  4. The world is getting greener because of fossil fuels. Wind and solar are expensive and reduce the standard of living, harming poorer people the most. Thanks to fossil fuels, the % of land being farmed if falling and eco-diversity growing. Thank goodness we rely on fossil fuels. Thank goodness for fracking.

    by Roger

    June 23, 2014

  5. Our Worldwide Code of Conduct, first published in 1974, defines what we stand for and believe in, documenting the uncompromisingly high ethical standards our company has upheld since its founding in 1925. This web site helps Caterpillar employees put the values and principles expressed in our Code of Conduct into action every day by providing detailed guidance on the behaviors and actions that support our values of Integrity, Excellence, Teamwork, and Commitment. Our Worldwide Code of Conduct was most recently updated in July 2010 in connection with our Vision 2020 strategy update. The updates to the Code of Conduct included adding references to interactions with our distributors and listing certain laws with which we comply in our worldwide activities. We also noted each employee's personal responsibility to enhance stockholder value and the responsibility of leaders to set an example and "live by the code." PC(USA) has no code of conduct.

    by W S Webb

    June 22, 2014

  6. Another misadventure by MRTI. Fossil fuel is "gift of God." Reducing fossil fuel use will propel the world to the days of John Calvin.

    by W S Webb

    June 22, 2014

  7. This proposal is mistaken. Using hydrocarbons as an energy source has exponentially reduced human suffering, and dramatically increased human development. Hydrocarbon energy has made our food-supply tremendously more abundant and efficient. Our grocery stores are filled with food that was grown using gas-powered tractors, processed using natural gas or coal-powered electricity, transported to our store in diesel-powered trucks, refrigerated, and then cooked. Hardly anything has raised the quality-of-life for the poor, and elderly, more than hydrocarbons. Until and unless the physics and chemistry of truly 'alternative' sources of energy can be drastically improved, they are not an alternative for anyone but the extremely wealthy.

    by Jeff

    June 22, 2014

  8. This is extreme and misguided. Fossil fuels are not our enemy. We need to be encouraging exploration and development of clean, abundant natural gas as ann alternative to coal and oil and to act as a bridge to as yet unproven renewable sources. By the way, CO2 is not a pollutant.

    by Jim

    June 21, 2014

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