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Religious Activists Push Back Against ‘Blunt Instrument’ of Fossil Fuels Divestment

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Your faithful correspondent last week exposed the fossil-fuel divestment endgame of religious shareholder activists. As You Sow President Danielle Fugere sees her group’s activities as awareness-raising exercises for climate change, but AYS’s alignment with environmentalist and divestment firebrand Naomi Klein suggests they’d settle for nothing less than nationalizing oil companies. This week, I’m happy to report another group frequently called to task in this space, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, opposes the AYS divestment onslaught. Reporting in last week’s Wall Street Journal, Gregory J. Millman writes:

An organization of faith-based and socially responsible investors is pushing back against the call for divestment from fossil fuel companies. At its Winter Conference Wednesday, the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, which claims 300 member organizations controlling $100 billion in invested capital, called instead for more shareholder engagement with such companies.

“Divestment is one step but a blunt instrument that leaves investors with no voice at corporate tables,” said Laura Berry, executive director of the ICCR.

This writer has to admit he was gob-smacked by Berry’s quote. It’s not often you see progressives break ranks to such a degree, and when it happens it’s cause for celebration. But, just as I was preparing to send Ms. Berry a dozen Valentine’s roses, I read further. It seems, although ICCR initially refuses to ride on the divestment train, the investment group continues to crank the anti-fossil fuels handcar on the same tracks as AYS:

The ICCR announced that it will be releasing within two weeks a guide outlining strategies for shareholder activism and recapitulating the history of such engagement to drive social change. “The planned report will offer shareholders dozens of examples of the impact of long-term engagement and offer guidance on concrete, meaningful actions that investors can implement to accelerate progress toward a fossil fuel free world,” an ICCR spokeswoman said. The guide will discuss not only “exclusionary strategies,” such as divestment, but also such approaches as proxy voting, shareholder resolutions, dialog, impact investing and climate finance.

The spokeswoman noted that two recent examples of the success of such engagement came at BP PLC and Royal Dutch Shell PLC. Both companies have recommended their shareholders vote in favor of shareholder resolutions demanding more disclosure on subjects related to climate change. “The resolution is non-confrontational and gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our current actions and build on our existing disclosures in this area,” BP said in a statement.

Good grief. As noted previously, divestment is a costly enterprise for investors due to the costs of monitoring and most assuredly lost dividends. While the ICCR lighter touch is significantly better than divestment, it also interferes with the best interests of other investors who simply want to see a return on their investments by economically hampering the companies targeted by such anti-fossil fuel shareholder resolutions to reduce executive payment based on “carbon reduction metrics” as ICCR has submitted to Entergy Corp., AMEREN (Union Electric), ConocoPhillips; and Dominion Resources, Inc., and other such folderol.

Darn and double-darn. I really was looking forward to reporting ICCR had come to its senses.

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Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. He was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010-2012. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2011 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past five years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Flint, Mich., with his wife Katherine.

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