Shareholder action on coal
Shareholder action on coal includes a variety of tactical approaches aimed at improving coal and utility company practices by those with a financial stake in power, finance, or related companies. Such actions include:
- Shareholder resolutions
- Divestment campaigns
- Calls for regulation to ensure market predictability
- Campaigns to remove individual directors or managers
- Member/owner campaigns, especially within rural electric cooperatives, aimed at shifting policy through board elections and other measures
- Screening by socially responsible investment funds and institutional portfolios
- Including coal-related issues such as miner safety and climate change in SEC reporting requirements for publicly traded companies
Shareholder resolutions on coal have taken various forms:
- General disclosure. One type of resolution has aimed at forcing fuller disclosure of company policies and practices having to do with coal, especially in unregulated areas such as coal waste.
- Climate change risks. A second type of resolution aims at requiring companies to divulge the financial risks associated with climate change. with 95 shareholder resolutions filed during the 2009 proxy season.
- Banning selected practices. A third type of resolution seeks to block companies from engaging in or funding mountaintop removal mining, new coal plants, or carbon capture projects.
Among shareholder groups focusing on coal issues is Green Century Capital Management, the administrator of a family of environmentally responsible mutual funds known as Green Century Funds, which "engages companies through shareholder advocacy to improve their environmental performance, decrease financial risk, and capture new market opportunities." Another is As You Sow, whose Corporate Social Responsibility Program (CSRP) "uses shareholder advocacy and the financial markets to catalyze positive change within publicly held companies."
2011 coal and climate resolutions
On Feb. 17, 2011, investors announced the filing of 66 climate and energy related shareholder resolutions with 41 coal, electric power and oil companies in the 2011 proxy season, a 50 percent increase from 2010. The resolutions were filed by public pension funds, foundations and religious, labor and other institutional investors. Many of the investors are members of Ceres' Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), which has more than 90 members managing over $9 trillion in assets.
The electric power sector had the largest increase in resolutions filed, with investors filing 29 resolutions with 19 electric power companies, including Dominion, Dynegy, Southern Company and Xcel Energy. Many of the resolutions asked the companies to set greenhouse gas reduction goals. Others focused on the financial risks of water-scarcity concerns, usage of renewable energy and risks from mountaintop removal mining. In a first, a handful of resolutions asked FirstEnergy, MDU (withdrawn) and Sempra Energy to link executive compensation with sustainability metrics. Coal companies, including Peabody, Arch Coal (withdrawn) and International Coal Group, received resolutions seeking reports on their response to rising pressure to reduce CO2 and other emissions from their products.
- Alpha Natural Resources - Report response to rising pressure to reduce pollution from operations.
- Arch Coal - Report response to rising pressure to reduce CO2 and other air pollution emissions from operations and products (withdrawn).
- Berkshire Hathaway - Establish quantitative goals for reduction of GHG and other air emissions.
- CMS Energy Corporation - Report on financial risk of continued reliance on coal.
- CONSOL Energy - Sustainability report including climate change (withdrawn).
- Dominion - Disclose plans to mitigate risks of water use and disposal, including low flows, thermal impacts, and emerging regulations (withdrawn); report on financial risk of continued reliance on coal and mountaintop removal mining; provide financing for rooftop solar; provide 100% renewable option to customers.
- Duke Energy - Report on financial risk of continued reliance on coal.
- International Coal Group - Report response to rising pressure to reduce CO2 and other air emissions from operations and products.
- Massey Energy - Report on response to EPA settlement including Clean Water Act violations.
- MDU Resources - Link sustainability metrics and executive compensation (withdrawn).
- Peabody Energy - Report response to rising pressure to reduce CO2 and other air emissions from operations and products.
- Southern Company - Report on reducing risks from coal ash.
In 2009, As You Sow and Green Century Capital Management filed five proposals asking CMS Energy, First Energy, MDU Resources Group, Southern Company, and Xcel Energy to report on efforts to reduce environmental and health hazards associated with toxic coal waste (coal ash) and to protect utilities from financial and regulatory risk. Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal that contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and other toxins. The ash is stored in enormous coal waste ponds, landfills, or mines and, according to the EPA, has contaminated groundwater in 24 states. Coal waste is also vulnerable to spills: in 2008, a dam burst at a coal ash pond operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, covering local communities in toxic sludge. TVA has estimated spill-related costs at $1.2 billion. As of April 2010, coal waste is not subject to federal regulations.
April 2010 was the first-ever shareholder vote on coal ash practices and disclosure, with 25.6% of MDU Resources Group shareholders voting in support of increased transparency on coal ash risk. The resolution, supported by over 42 million votes, asked the company to report on the its efforts to reduce environmental and health hazards associated with coal waste ponds, impoundments, and mines, and how those efforts reduce risks to the company’s finance and operations. The resolution was filed by Green Century Capital Management (Green Century) and As You Sow.
In January 2010, Green Century withdrew their resolution with FirstEnergy, a major utility, after the company agreed to publicly commit to a long-term strategy of using only dry storage for its coal ash. The company will stop pumping coal ash into its 1,000-acre treatment pond in Pennsylvania, and transition to a dry method of waste storage, which limits potential contamination.
On April 21, 2011, the Midwest Coalition for Responsible Investment voted on a shareholder proposal that would have required Ameren to provide detailed information about coal waste management and how those efforts may reduce risks to company finances and operations. The proposal got 46 percent of the votes cast — short of the majority needed to pass. The subject of coal ash disposal has taken on significance because of plans by Ameren Missouri to build a new coal ash landfill in the Missouri River floodplain next to the Labadie Power Station, spurring contentious zoning hearings in Franklin County, Illinois. In response to the shareholder vote, Ameren Chief Executive Thomas R. Voss said that he recognized there is interest in the issue and that the company will release 'substantial" information on its coal waste practices by the end of 2011 as part of a broader report on social responsibility; Ameren, however, had advised shareholders to vote against the resolution, saying such a report was "not necessary, prudent or cost effective." The company didn't specify what information it would provide as part of the corporate responsibility report, or whether it would address issues raised in the resolution. Institutional Shareholder Services, a proxy advisory firm, has also recommended that shareholders support resolutions involving corporate sustainability. 
In April 2010, Consumers Energy shareholders began signaling their concerns that parent company CMS Energy’s environmental performance puts the company at financial risk, particularly the proposed Karn/Weadock Generating Complex Expansion, which would add a new coal plant to the company's existing 2101 megawatt (MW) coal complex near Bay City, Michigan.
Two shareholder proposals are on the ballot at the company’s shareholder meeting in May, 2010. The Office of the Comptroller of New York City, a major investor in CMS, has asked the company to report to its shareholders on quantitative goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, As You Sow, a California shareholder advocacy organization, has requested that the company report on its efforts to reduce the environmental and health hazards associated with coal waste. According to As You Sow, CMS purchased the land for its coal ash storage in the 1940s and owns and operates landfills that have been leaking arsenic, boron, and phosphorous for decades.
Coal combustion accounts for 47.5% of Consumers Energy generation capacity.
Trillium Asset Management and Bank of America
In the 2007-2008 shareholder resolution season, Trillium Asset Management, an investment management company devoted to sustainability, submitted the resolution "Moratorium on Coal Financing" to Bank of America (BOA). The resolution states that BOA has adopted a goal of reducing direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from its facilities by 9% and indirect GHGs within its energy & utility portfolio by 7%, yet continues to provide financing for companies engaged in mountain top removal (MTR) coal mining and coal-fired electric power, which "in addition to having serious adverse impacts on communities, the environment, and public health, may also increase the long-term indirect GHG emissions within BOA’s portfolio." The resolution concludes: "RESOLVED: Shareholders request that BOA’s board of directors amend its GHG policies to observe a moratorium on all financing, investment, and further involvement in activities that support MTR coal mining or the construction of new coal-burning power plants that emit carbon dioxide."
Boston Common, Loyola University, and JP Morgan
At least two shareholder groups filed resolutions in 2010 highlighting JPMorgan’s support for mountaintop removal (MTR) mining. One of them, Boston Common Asset Management, a firm focusing on sustainable and responsible investing, called on the bank to publicly report on the impact of MTR mining by its clients, particularly Massey Energy and Arch Coal, as well as the financial impact on JPMorgan if it banned MTR financing. Boston Common later withdrew its resolution due to ongoing negotiations with JPMorgan officials, according to a Boston Common official.
The other resolution, filed by Loyola University Chicago, demands that JPMorgan adhere to a 2008 agreement that JPMorgan signed on to called the “Carbon Principles,” an effort among big banks to improve environmental disclosures and ultimately shift more funding into green, sustainable projects. The pushback from the university grew out of a visit to MTR sites in Appalachia by Loyola students, who were shocked at the devastation wrought on the landscape and surrounding communities, says Elaine Lehman, a director of corporate relations at the school.
Campus divestment campaign
350.org's We Are Power Shift urges students to ask their colleges and universities to divest from direct ownership and comingled funds of public equities and corporate bonds in large, polluting coal companies, and to reinvest instead in coal-free ventures and on-campus initiative.
According to its website: "An endowment is a fund that holds its principal in perpetuity and only pays out a small portion, about 4 to 5 percent per year, that goes to campus operations and programs. ... Colleges and universities are substantial investors, with combined endowment assets estimated at more than $350 billion in the United States alone." The group offers a "Sample Letter to Administrators" requesting endowment disclosure and coal divestment.
In 2012, students at more than 100 colleges across the country began protesting the investment of their school’s endowment funds in large fossil fuel companies.
In November 2012, Maine's Unity College Board of Trustees voted to divest from fossil fuels.
Hampshire College in Massachusetts approved a policy in 2012 of investing in environmentally responsible companies that it said would rid its portfolio of fossil fuel stocks.
City divestment campaigns
In 2013 Seattle and San Francisco’s city employee pension funds began considering divesting from fossil fuel companies. Seattle’s $1.9 billion pension fund holds $17.6 million in investments in oil and gas companies. In Feb 2013, SF City Supervisor John Avalos introduced a resolution calling for the city’s $16 billion retirement fund to divest from fossil fuel companies.
Citizen pressure on bank lending
Citizens and environmental groups are urging financial institutions to divest from companies that engage in harmful environmental practices. In July 2010, the banking giant Wells Fargo noted what it called “considerable attention and controversy” surrounding mountaintop removal (MTR) mining, and said that its involvement with companies engaged in it was “limited and declining.” The bank's move was largely seen as in response to multiple nonviolent direct actions against coal, particularly financial lending for MTR. The bank represented about $78 million in bonds and loan financing for MTR coal companies from 2008 to April 2010, according to data compiled by the Rainforest Action Network.
The policy shift by Wells Fargo follows others over the last two years, including moves by Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citibank, to increase scrutiny of lending to companies involved in MTR — or to end the lending altogether.
North Carolina bill proposed to divest state investments in Massey Energy
In June, 2010, four North Carolina state representatives introduced a bill that would require the state to divest its investments in Massey Energy. The measure, House Bill 2010, was sponsored by state Represenatives Pricey Harrison, Earl Jones, Paul Luebke, and Susan Fisher. According to a press release issued by the bill's sponsors, North Carolina owns 385,000 shares of Massey stock valued at approximately $12 million. Earlier in June, North Carolina State Treasurer Janet Cowell joined a coalition of institutional investors in urging Massey shareholders to withhold votes from the three Massey board members responsible for mining safety. The shareholder action was a response to the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.
New York State Common Retirement Fund: Divest from Massey Energy
In 2010 the group NYC for Appalachia Rising began a petition drive advocating that the New York STate Common Retirement Fund divest from Massey Energy stock. The petition cited Massey's involvement in mountaintop removal mining, its delinquent record of environmental and satefy offenses, and its antagonistic stance toward unions.
Santa Clara University
In 2008, students at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit university in California, wrote a letter to the university administration encouraging the university to divest its stock in Massey Energy. The students, D.J. Wheeler and Jennifer Mock, had participated in an immersion trip to West Virginia where they had met Wess Harris, an anti-mountaintop removal activist and former coal union leader. Two years earlier, another immersion student, Kyle Ozawa, had made a similar appeal to the university. Shortly after assuming the position of Santa Clara University president in January 2009, Father Michael Engh announced during his State of the University address on February 23, 2009, that SCU had divested its Massey Stock.
- If you prefer not to use your shares to bring pressure on the company to change, or if it’s clear that shareholder advocacy is not working, divestment can be an effective way of getting your message across. Divestment demonstrates to a corporation that its environmentally irresponsible actions and policies will negatively affect its bottom line.
- Be sure to write to the company to explain your decision, telling them why you divested, and what it would take to invest in the company again.
- One especially effective way of divesting is to consider donating your stock to a group or organization that can use your stock to pursue shareholder advocacy with the company. (You don’t even have to donate all of your stock. Because even one share entitles a shareholder to file resolutions or ask for dialogues with a company, you can sell part of your stock, and donate the rest.)
Calls for regulation
Investors urge EPA action on coal waste
In September 2010, a group of investors representing over $240 billion in assets under management sent in a public comment letter to the EPA regarding coal waste regulation. Since May 4, 2010 the U.S. EPA has been considering two competing proposals to regulate coal-ash waste produced by coal-fired power plants: as hazardous wastes subject to regulation under subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), or as non-hazardous waste under subtitle D of RCRA.
The letter urged the EPA to regulate coal waste as hazardous waste, stating that: “The catastrophic coal ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) pond in December 2008 demonstrated that current regulations are not enough to mitigate environmental and financial risk for utilities and their shareholders." The investors go on to highlight the financial assurance requirement in the proposed regulations as a critical measure to assist shareholders in understanding the financial risks associated with coal ash and evaluating which companies are financially prepared to manage the costs of closing down coal ash sludge ponds or dealing with coal ash‐related impacts: “Beyond the TVA spill, the disastrous oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates that unforeseen accidents can occur that create unpredictably large environmental and financial risk for energy companies. We believe it is critical that utilities be required to assure shareholders and the public that they are financially prepared to manage the costs associated with a catastrophic coal ash spill or other ash‐related events that could require significant clean up costs."
The letter was organized by Green Century Capital Management (Green Century) and As You Sow, and signed by 22 institutional investors including the Connecticut State Treasurer’s Office, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, and Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler; investors including Trillium Asset Management Corporation and First Affirmative Financial Network; and religious investors including Catholic Healthcare West and the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia.
Campaigns to remove individual directors or managers
Win Investment Group calls on Massey to fire Don Blankenship
After Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster took 29 lives in April 2010, Win Investment Group, a union pension fund group with over $200 billion in assets, called on Massey to fire its CEO Don Blankenship, saying the mine explosion was the “tragic consequence of the board’s failure to challenge Chairman and CEO Blankenship’s confrontational approach to regulatory compliance.”
On April 15, 2010, Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust - which owns 1,000 shares of Massey Energy stock - sued Massey and its board of directors, alleging the Upper Big Branch explosion shows the company is neglecting safety measures, which has hurt the company's financial standing. The lawsuit was filed in Kanawha Circuit Court.
The shareholder derivative lawsuit names Massey, Don Blankenship, all current board members, former member Gordon Gee, the company's chief operating officer, chief compliance officer, general counsel, and its senior vice president of group operations. Shareholder derivative lawsuits generally allege that mismanagement of a company is decreasing the company's value, which hurts shareholders. In addition to lost production, the lawsuit maintains that "the company is almost certain to face securities fraud lawsuits, state and federal investigations, fines, heightened regulatory scrutiny, loss of goodwill, and reputational harm."
The Manville suit was followed by three similar shareholder lawsuits against Massey, filed by the New Jersey Building Laborers Pension Fund, the International Union of Operating Engineers Pension Fund of Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware, and the Louisiana Municipal Police Employees' Retirement System.
Public Institutional Investors Call for New Massey Safety Committee
In April 2010, a coalition of nine public institutional investors representing approximately over $500 billion in assets under management sent a letter urging Massey Energy shareholders to withhold support from Board of Directors Baxter F. Philips, Richard M. Gabrys, and Dan R. Moore because they have failed to carry out their duties on the Safety, Environmental, and Public Policy Committee. All three current Massey Directors are up for re-election at the May 18, 2010, annual meeting of shareholders. The investor coalition also called on Massey Lead Director Admiral Bobby R. Inman to direct CEO Don L. Blankenship to step down as Chairman of the Board.
Leading proxy advisory firms RiskMetrics and Glass Lewis advised clients to withhold their support from the three Directors, citing the company’s record of safety violations, the Board’s failure to adequately oversee management, and poor corporate governance practices.
The investor coalition collectively owns 1,362,528 shares of Massey Energy valued at over $64 million. The members of the coalition are: California State Teachers’ Retirement System, Office of Connecticut State Treasurer, Illinois State Board of Investment, Maryland State Pension and Retirement System, New York State Common Retirement Fund, New York City Employees’ Retirement System, North Carolina Department of State Treasurer, Oregon State Treasury, and Pennsylvania Treasury.
“Since the tragic Upper Big Branch mine (“Upper Big Branch”) explosion on April 5, 2010, federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (“MSHA”) records and media reports have revealed repeated and serious safety violations,” a letter signed by the investor coalition stated. Following the April 5 Upper Big Branch explosion, Massey shares lost approximately $975 million in market value during a two-day time period. The Company has said it will see second-quarter losses of between $80 million and $150 million for costs related to the explosion. Additionally, Standard & Poor’s could cut Massey’s ratings due to increased regulatory oversight.
REC reform and activist groups
In February 2010, a new co-op reform organization called Co-opConversationsUSA.org launched a website that will serve as a public education tool for rural electric cooperatives around the country. A press release on the issue notes, "One of the initial goals of the national effort will be to showcase models of a ‘Member Bill of Rights’ that all local cooperatives can adapt to help ensure members full access and transparency to their co-op."
According to the Co-OpConversationsUSA website: "Many electric cooperatives do not appear to fully appreciate the rapidly-changing situation utilities find themselves in, with global warming, energy efficiency, and clean energy issues. Cooperative members have begun to notice that the system has broken down, not only around energy issues but financial management issues as well. Learn how co-op members are taking charge to protect their present and future interests."
Wolverine Power Cooperative members protest paying for new coal plant
Citizen groups are protesting the costs Wolverine Power Cooperative members - a consortium of six Michigan power cooperatives - are paying in their electricity bills for Wolverine to fund carbon capture and clean coal research projects like Wolverine Clean Energy Venture, a proposed plant comprising two 300 megawatt (MW) power generation units. Members say they pay both the construction costs and, later, higher energy prices. The video urges co-op members to vote for board of directors that reflect customer and member interests.
Assets invested in sustainable and socially responsibile investing (SRI) funds and portfolios increased by 34% between 2007 and 2010, accounting for 12.2% of the $25.2 trillion in total assets under professional management tracked by Thomas Reuters Nelson. In 2010, assets for which various environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors were incorporated into investment analysis and portfolio construction amounted to $2.51 trillion. Among ESG criteria, environmental factors accounted for the fourth largest quantity of assets, following Sudan, tobacco, and alcohol.
Under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, enacted in 2010, companies that operate coal or other mines in the United States must report in their SEC filings the names of their mines that have received citations or warnings under the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977.
- As You Sow
- Boston Common Asset Management
- Green America
- Green Century Capital Management
- Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)
- Loyola University Chicago
- Trillium Asset Management
- Arch Coal
- Bank of America
- CMS Energy
- CONSOL Energy
- First Energy
- International Coal Group
- JP Morgan Chase coal issues
- Massey Energy
- MDU Resources Group
- Southern Company
- Xcel Energy
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- Brent Summers, "Campus Divestment Fight Resonates in the East," NYT, Dec. 12, 2012.
- Stephen Mulkey, "Unity College Board Of Trustees Votes To Divest From Fossil Fuels," Climate Progress, Nov 9, 2012.
- Brent Summers, "Campus Divestment Fight Resonates in the East," NYT, Dec. 12, 2012.
- Susie Cagle, "Seattle and San Francisco consider divesting from fossil fuels," Grist, Feb. 5, 2013.
- Tom Zeller, "Banks Grow Wary of Environmental Risks" NY Times, August 30, 2010.
- Lisa Sort, "N.C. could divest from Massey Energy," IndyWeek.com, June 7, 2010
- "NY State Common Retirement Fund: Divest from Massey Energy," Care2 Petitionsite, accessed 8/10/10
- Michael Barrick, "Students Guide the Way as University Rids Itself of Coal Stock," The Barrick Report, March 4, 2009
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- "Shareholders call on Massey to fire Don Blankenship" Climate Progress, April 14, 2010.
- Andrew Klevenger,"Shareholder sues Massey, cites Montcoal and safety issues" Charleston Gazette, April 15, 2010.
- "Disaster at Massey's W.Va. mine spurs more shareholder actions against board" The Republic, April 28, 2010.
- "Massey investors urge shareholders to withhold vote for board members over safety violations" Coal Tattoo, May 12, 2010.
- "Report on Socially Responsible Investing Trends in the United States 2010," Social Investment Forum Foundation
Related GEM.wiki Resources
- Shareholder action on fracking
- Divestment of tobacco industry funds
- Financial Risks of Coal Energy Investment
- Feed-in tariff
- Campus coal plants
- Divest From Fossil Fuels, Fossil Free.
- The London Mining Network
- "White Paper: Financial Risks of Investments in Coal" As You Sow, 2011
- "Shareholder Resolutions Advance Social, Environmental, and Corporate Governance Issues," Social Investment Forum Foundation
- "Report on Socially Responsible Investing Trends in the United States 2010," Social Investment Forum Foundation
- "Banks and coal" Banktrack
- Brent Summers, "Campus Divestment Fight Resonates in the East," NYT, Dec. 12, 2012.
- Gretchen Morgenson, "Chevron Aims at an Activist Shareholder," NY Times, December 8, 2012.
- "Peabody Shows Coal Takeovers Burn Investors With Record Declines" Bloomberg, Aug. 30, 2011
- Amanda Starbuck, "Shareholders Ask PNC Bank To Live The Green Dream" RAN, April 26, 2011
- Ron Robins, "Ethical Investors Successfully Engage Compnies and Governments," Alrroya.com, December 9, 2010