Anti-coal campaign makes headway

Students who have been at the forefront of an effort to stop the University’s investment in coal made gains last week to attract more attention to their cause.

The UNC Sierra Student Coalition’s Beyond Coal campaign succeeded in adding a referendum to the 2013 student body presidential ballot by passing it through Student Congress.

The referendum, which will be on the Feb. 12 ballot, will gauge student opinion on endowment investment in coal in an effort to encourage administrative response to the subject.

“We wanted to do something that would give us more traction with the administrators,” said sophomore Jasmine Ruddy, the grassroots organizer for Beyond Coal. “That’s why we are using the referendum.”

Beyond Coal’s goal is to receive support for coal divestment — stopping the use of endowment funds for investing in coal-using companies. They are hoping for support from at least 50 percent of the student body with the referendum.

“We claim to be a very sustainable university because of the great progress we’re making on campus, but now we’re asking the administrators to put their money where their mouths are,” Ruddy said.

The referendum is nonbinding, so there will be no immediate change if it passes successfully.

But Campus Y Co-President Mackenzie Thomas said meeting the goal would send a strong, tangible message to administrators.

The Campus Y selected Beyond Coal as one of its supported semester campaigns last week.

Chancellor Holden Thorp made a promise in 2010 that the University would stop burning coal on campus by 2020. But the University still invests in it.

The University has an estimated $2.2 billion endowment to use at its discretion. As much as $100 million of that could be invested in the coal industry, Ruddy said.

“Our main issue with coal is that it threatens public health from cradle to grave — meaning that from extraction to combustion to disposal, the use of coal is polluting rivers, poisoning the local water in communities, and causing asthma and lung cancer,” Ruddy said.

Beyond Coal campaign members said continuing to invest in coal — rather than renewable energy — might make UNC less competitive economically.

Senior Travis Crayton, chairman of Student Congress’ rules and judiciary committee, who introduced the referendum, said he believes it should receive the support of the student body and administrators.

Ruddy said the referendum is just the next step in a larger effort toward environmental sustainability.

“We need to divest in coal and kick some ash.”

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