COLORADO SPRINGS – Colorado’s Proposition 112, that would have required 2,500 foot buffers between new oil and gas drilling sites and occupied buildings such as homes and schools, failed last week in the state’s general election.
Industry lobbyists and campaigners spent $30 million arguing that the grassroots ballot measure threatened to significantly limit the extraction of fossil fuel, leaving Colorado’s economy in ruin.
Now, proponents of fossil fuel regulation are changing tactics and beginning to focus on the private sector.
“Big money is what you need to beat big money,” said Zach Benevento, co-founder of Fossil Free CC, a grassroots group pushing for divestment of Colorado College’s $744 million endowment from fossil fuel companies.
The industry has economic clout. The best way to stifle oil and gas is to cut into their bottom line, Benevento said.
“It’s pretty irresponsible to continue supporting these industries that are driving climate change,” he said.
Divestment as a form of advocacy has been used since the 1980’s, when the United States leveraged its investments to put pressure on South Africa’s apartheid government.
However, Colorado College’s board of trustees and managers who oversee the CC endowment are not convinced that divestment now is the best option going forward.
“It’s a good idea if returns are maintained,” said Shane Eckert, a political science major at Colorado College in a recent interview. Eckert co-manages an investment portfolio for a small portion of the school’s endowment, through the school’s finance club.
While the idea is socially popular, the board member’s final decision on what to do will depend on the financial viability of the move, Eckert said.
“I think they’re open to it. But, if the school thinks that they will lose money because of divestment, then they won’t do it,” he said.
At an October board meeting, the trustees listened to a presentation from Benevento and Fossil Free CC. Following the meeting, president Jill Tiefenthaler gave an unofficial green light to initiate the creation of a pilot portfolio, said Benevento. This test would track the financial viability of a small, divested portion of the endowment.
Tiefenthaler could not be reached for comment on this story.
Even if the pilot portfolio proves successful, Eckart said he’s not sure that it will sway all opponents.
“People think that it may be a slippery slope,” said Eckert. Some students and board members are concerned that If CC divests funds from oil and gas, it will establish a precedent of politicization the endowment. They fear that it would open the door to other causes calling for a pull of financial support from industries and companies which don’t align with student and faculty priorities, Eckert said.
Benevento disputes that argument. “Climate change has a totally different scope than anything else. It will have huge effects on all of us,” he said.
“This is not a matter of divesting based on morals. It’s a matter of investing in our future,” said Benevento.
If Colorado College does chose to divest, it would join Stanford, Pitzer and a number of other academic institutions that have partially or fully pulled financial support from fossil fuels.
The Colorado College board of trustees is scheduled to meet February 21-23, in the Yalich Board Room at Spencer Center.