After agreement to end coal use by 2017, group aims to divest UI of coal interests

Following last year’s success in making the University pledge to stop using coal power by 2017, members of a University branch of the national Beyond Coal campaign are looking to take a further step: end any University investment in coal companies.

The group will strategize ways to persuade the University to suspend investments in coal companies at its kickoff meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the University YMCA.

They hope to present their findings at an upcoming board of trustees meeting.

The University of Illinois Foundation invests donors’ money in various areas, but because the foundation is an independent organization, this information is private.

“We’re pushing for the campus to divest in coal as soon as possible,” said Katrina Underwood of the Beyond Coal Campaign. “It’s becoming globally recognized that coal is an outdated energy source. There are so many health hazards, and the mining practices are extremely destructive.”

The foundation, which fundraises for all three campuses, had a total of $1.65 billion dollars in private donations as of last June, said Donald Kojich, vice president for marketing and communications for the foundation. Kojich said can choose where their money goes.

“Our foundation board, which consists of 20-plus members has fiduciary responsibilities to help forward and advance the University and the University’s assets,” he said.

Kojich could not provide information about whether the foundation invests in coal companies by press time.

Because the University agreed to the 2017 deadline, representatives from the plant have been looking for alternative energy sources, such as natural gas and biofuels, campaign members said.

The group formed about a year ago after a group of students had the idea to push for the University to sign a pledge to stop using coal-fueled power.

“Since our campaign to get Abbott to stop using coal by 2017 was so successful, the (national) coalition of organizations came to us,” said Tyler Rotche of the Beyond Coal Campaign.

The Sierra Club began the Beyond Coal campaign in 2002. According to the Sierra Student Coalition, a group of members who travel to different campuses “to train, empower and organize youth to run effective campaigns,” the campaign has thus far been successful in getting 16 college campuses to commit to being coal-free.

The campaign is hoping that with their kickoff meeting coming up, more people will become involved with their goal for coal divestment this year.

“We want our school to be a leader to other schools in achieving divestment,” said Katie Mimnaugh, graduate student in natural resources and environmental sciences. “We want to show the nation we can take sustainability to the next level.”

Claire can be reached at everett5@dailyillini.com.