The progressive shareholder activists over at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility have made it one of their core missions to move companies in which they invest away from fossil fuels – and bankrupting them if necessary. To achieve this goal, according to their website,

ICCR members seek to move companies along a “hierarchy of impact” that will gradually reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and advance their progress towards greater sustainability. Understanding its importance in driving the energy transition, ICCR members actively support climate legislation and regulation from the global to local level and seek greater disclosure around companies’ lobbying and political activites [sic] to ensure that they are consistent with stated policies on environmental issues. In addition, ICCR members are working to help educate the investment community as well as the corporations we work with about opportunities in climate financing that will help to build the coming green economy.

Readers will note that ICCR members seek legal and political enforcement to curtail or eliminate completely the use of fossil fuels, including circumventing First Amendment rights reinforced by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. Additionally, they have a powerful ally in the White House who warned us all in 2008 his proposed energy policy would bankrupt the coal industry when he stated as a candidate for his first term: “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

That warning has come to pass. According to an editorial titled “The Carnage in Coal Country” from the Wall Street Journal early last week:

Arch Coal filed for Chapter 11 protection on Monday, continuing an industry collapse that includes the bankruptcies of Patriot Coal, Walter Energy and Alpha Natural Resources. The White House must be cheering, because this is one Obama energy policy that seems to be working.

As President Obama prepares to deliver his final State of the Union address Tuesday, we wonder if he’ll take pride in the damage his policies have done to the coal industry. According to the National Mining Association, 40,000 coal jobs have been lost in the U.S. since 2008.

The wealth destruction has been equally dramatic. Peabody Energy is a going concern, but its shares have declined by roughly 95% in the last year. Investor Paul Tice recently wrote in these pages that since 2012 “27 coal-mining companies with core operations in Central Appalachia, a region roughly centered in southern West Virginia, have filed for bankruptcy protection.” We told you in November that coal production nationwide has declined by about 15% since 2008. Reasons include slowing global demand and competition from natural gas in electricity generation. But commodity prices are cyclical, while regulation is forever.

Readers will note that ICCR in general and one of its members, Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, specifically aimed their proxy resolutions at Alpha, which is one of the bankrupt coal providers listed above. While it’s true that Alpha was fined $27 million by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (the same agency that got off scot-free after unleashing 3 million gallons of toxic waste into Colorado’s Animas River this past summer) as well as being forced to pay another $200 million for “water remediation initiatives,” is it really in the best interests of shareholders to help drive the companies in which they invest into bankruptcy?
The WSJ editorial concludes:

Even after recent declines in market share, coal-fired plants still provide roughly a third or more of American electricity. So utility customers will notice the coal carnage when they see their monthly bills—or perhaps when the lights don’t go on. But for now the pain is concentrated among those who used to work in the coal fields. They are still waiting for all those new green jobs Mr. Obama has been promising since he arrived in Washington.

Is it really in the best interests of a company, its employees, its customers served and fellow shareholders, without a political axe to grind, to help a company in which you invest declare bankruptcy? Is it moral? Does this represent social justice?

Acton In America

Acton In America

Lord Acton's journal of his voyage to America in 1853.

  • http://www.acton.org/ John Couretas

    U.S. Energy Information Administration just issued a backgrounder on coal. “Although coal-fired generation still holds the largest share among all fuel sources used to generate electricity, its use has declined since 2007 because of a combination of slow growth in electricity demand, strong price competition from natural gas, increased use of renewable energy sources, and new environmental regulations that have added to the cost of using coal.” http://www.eia.gov/energy_in_brief/article/role_coal_us.cfm