For Immediate Release
Bangor, ME: On Monday afternoon the University of Maine System Board of Trustees unanimously approved a measure to divest all direct holdings from coal companies. The historic vote followed a two-year campaign led by students at the University of Southern Maine and University of Maine campuses. The move makes the University of Maine System the first public land grant institution and the first University System in the country to divest any fossil fuel holdings.
At the board meeting, University of Maine at Presque Isle president Linda Schott also announced that the institution, one of seven in the system, quietly divested their foundation from fossil fuels in 2014.
“Not many of you may know that UMPI has a foundation that holds its endowment separate from the system. A year ago in November we discussed our investments and directed our managers to move our assets out of fossil fuels. As of this last November we were completely divested,” Schott said.
The University System made history in the 1980s when it became one of the first University institutions in the country to divest from Apartheid South Africa.
Iris SanGiovanni is a member of Divest UMaine, a coalition of students, staff, faculty and alumni from both the USM and UM campuses advocating full fossil fuel divestment. “We are ecstatic that the Board of Trustees made the right decision today, and once again put us on the right side of history,” said SanGiovanni. “We see this as a first step— a major victory— but we are going to continue to press for full fossil fuel divestment,” she said.
Trustee Bonnie Newsom also expressed a desire to move toward full fossil fuel divestment. “I would like to see our Investment Committee continue to consider divestment from fossil fuels more generally,” said Trustee Newsom, after pointing out the many ecological thresholds that we are currently crossing.
“From a pragmatic point of view, moving to more sustainable sources of energy is a good financial investment,” said Glen Cummings, president of the University of Maine at Augusta.
Trustee Marjorie Medd spoke of her father’s health issues after working in the coal industry, which she said inspired her to pursue higher education. “We have to take this to a personal level,” she said.
Throughout their campaign, students have argued that fossil fuel divestment is a necessary move for the system, both morally and financially. Meaghan LaSala is a member of Divest UMaine. “It is our responsibility to make investments that are compatible with justice for communities that have borne the brunt of the toxic and exploitative practices of the fossil fuel industry— disproportionately low income communities and communities of color,” she said.
“Coal is the energy of the past. As world governments place stricter limits on carbon emissions, as they must if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, coal reserves will lose their value. Divesting now protects our assets, and sends the message that we take climate change seriously,” Sangiovanni said.