For my part in the Presbyterian Church USA’s debate over divestment of church funds from fossil fuel producers, I have suggested more than once that a blanket divestment is NOT the answer. I have recommended an alternative … redirected investment of funds into responsible/moral fossil fuels producers. Is there such a thing? I think there is, and I would like to suggest some criteria for that … criteria that could be used by PC-USA’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) ministry in deciding – on a case-by-case basis – what to do with the church’s investment funds.
• The Producer’s Record on the Environment – There is no lack of local/state/federal government agencies that can provide data on the producer’s record when it comes to environmental record. How well (or how poorly) does the agency (the EPA, for example) rate the producer? What complaints have been filed, and how well have those complaints been addressed.
• The Producer’s Record in the Workplace – Again, there is no lack of local/state/federal government agencies that can provide data on the producer’s record when it comes to to workplace safety and the producer’s treatment of employees. What is the producer’s safety record with OSHA, for example. This criteria can also be assessed with general data from the producer on pay scale, health insurance, leave policy. You could also look at the producer’s use of a number of amenities showing-up in the workplace … in-house gymnasiums, childcare, walk-in medical clinics, and dining facilities with a menu that includes healthy alternatives.
• Producer’s Voluntary Compliance/Participation – Does the producer voluntarily contribute to and participate in a variety of programs out there that address fossil fuel production in the U.S. These programs could include efforts to protect/expand habitat areas for listed species of wildlife, and libraries for the formulae used in such production processes as ‘fracturing.’
• Producer’s Contribution to the Community – How is the producer involved in various facets of the community? This could be through monetary and in-kind contributions to schools and NGOs in the community. It could also be through encouraging employees to contribute their time to community service efforts, and introducing matching grants for employees’ monetary contributions to charities.
• How the Producer is Reducing its Own Carbon Footprint – Whether it’s in construction of new buildings or in the refurbishment of old buildings, is the producer being eco-friendly by incorporating features that reduce energy consumption? Is the same being done in the field by upgrading production equipment and procedures that reduce energy consumption?
• A Renewable-Energy Division of the Fossil Fuel Producer – What many people don’t realize is the growing role being played by fossil fuel producers in creating/expanding solar fields, wind farms and other areas of renewable energy.
• Producer’s Presence/Record in the Third World – Many of the nation’s larger fossil fuel producers (what we call “the majors”) have operations in in countries outside the United States. When it comes to oversight and regulation of the fossil fuel industry, the U.S. is one of the most challenging countries to do business … many Third World companies have nowhere near the same level of oversight/regulation … if they have any at all. So, what is the producer’s record when it comes to production outside the U.S.?
These are some of my suggested criteria in assessing responsible/moral fossil fuel production. What criteria would YOU recommend?
NOTE: As the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA meets in Portland this week and considers demands for an immediate and total, blanket divestment of the denomination’s investment funds from “fossil fuel producers,” I have to ask … is blanket divestment the answer? Shouldn’t we, instead, consider reinvestment of those funds into responsible – even moral – fossil fuel producers?
Let me give you some idea of my background – the context in which I am composing these posts. It’s important to the consideration – if any! – that you will give to what follows …
For the past 32 years, I have lived and worked in and around the city of Midland, in the western region of Texas … smack-dab in the middle of what they call ‘the oil patch.’ There is some cattle and some cotton in the foundation of this community, but most of Midland today is built upon the energy industry, and the production of oil and natural gas plays a major -even predominant role – in our local economy.
I do not work directly for the energy industry … though I have been happily married those same 32 years to someone who is. As for me, I first worked in in this part of Texas as a contract archaeologist … but my vocation has changed more than once with the ups and downs – especially the downs! – in the energy industry over the past three decades. So I have also worked as a television writer/producer, a newspaper reporter/editor, a website/social media manager, and for the past eight years in the public information and media office of a community college.
This has given me a tremendous opportunity to observe the industry ‘up-close and personal,’ as we used to say in the news business. I suggest that I might have more insight than some others into the industry, its people, its technology and practices, and the changes in said technology and practices. I have seen, reported-on and learned from – to borrow a phrase from a movie title – the good, the bad and the ugly of fossil fuel production … and the beautiful, as well.
Let me qualify that last paragraph, though … my experience observing fossil fuel producers has been exclusively with oil and natural gas. I have no such current experience with the coal industry, and I am not qualified to comment upon changes that may have taken place in their technology and practices. When it comes to coal, all I have to go on are the 50-year-old memories I have of that industry – actually, the remnants of that industry – in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area of northeastern Pennsylvania … observations which helped set my course down the environmentalism path as a teenager way-back-when.
Anyway, that is where I come from. Where I am going, in the days ahead, is to develop my pro-fossil fuel thesis, and to suggest options for a position within the Presbyterian Church USA that still promotes protection and restoration of God’s creation, yet encourages responsible – even moral – energy production that includes fossil fuels. Thank you for your time in reading the above. I welcome any comments you wish to make in the space below … regardless of your stance on fossil fuel production. It is my hope that this will be the start of a discussion among those who ultimately share a common goal, a common destination … though for now, we may be reaching it by different paths.
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