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A climate coalition led by University of New Mexico students is amplifying calls for the institution to address climate change by divesting from fossil fuel companies.
UNM Leaders for Environmental Action and Foresight (LEAF) and more than 60 faculty and alumni, state lawmakers and climate groups submitted a legal complaint to state Attorney General Hector Balderas on Tuesday.
The complaint alleges that the University of New Mexico Foundation’s investments in fossil fuel assets violate its legal obligations as a charitable organization supporting the university’s mission and its guiding principles of “thoughtful stewardship of … cultures and environment.”
The industries promote “environmental destruction and social injustice,” according to the groups.
Emily Phan, a UNM LEAF leader and biochemistry student from Albuquerque, said she wants the university to take meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Higher educational institutions should be protecting their students, and encouraging them to do better in the world,” Phan said. “We’re hoping that (the foundation) decides to pretty much funnel their money into literally anything else besides fossil fuels.”
Students hosted a rally on UNM campus on Friday to advocate for renewable energy investments.
The UNM Foundation’s Consolidated Investment Fund, or endowment, is currently valued at $579 million.
Indirect energy investments make up about 5.6% of the fund, or $32.5 million.
“The Foundation is closely listening to student concerns,” said Gabe Gomez, a UNM Foundation spokesperson. “We appreciate our students’ thoughts and engagement on issues of such great importance, and certainly, climate change is one issue we all care about deeply.”
State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, a former UNM law professor, said divestment should be part of a “full court press” strategy to adapt to climate change.
“In New Mexico the way we’re going to experience (the climate crisis) is water,” said the Albuquerque Democrat, who signed Tuesday’s complaint. “We don’t have enough water. There are water rights on paper that there simply is no wet water for.”
UNM Regent Sandra Begay said at a May board meeting that she supports the climate advocacy efforts, but said changing the investment portfolio could be a long process.
“It’s going to be a hard lift, to be quite honest,” Begay said.
The University of California system and several Ivy League schools have divested from fossil fuel interests.
Before Harvard decided this fall to sell its fossil fuel assets, students had filed a legal complaint to the Massachusetts state attorney general.
“Just because (divestment) is difficult, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it,” Phan said. “It would take some work, and it would be hard, and it wouldn’t get done within a year. But I love this school, and I think that we are very capable of doing hard things.”
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.