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Katherine McCabe / Gavel Media

Group Files Complaint with Mass. AG Over University’s Fossil Fuel Investments

By Patrick Carpenter and Dorothy Cucci

This morning, a coalition of politicians, climate scientists, activist groups, and Boston College alumni have filed a complaint with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey about the university’s continued investment in the fossil fuel industry.

The group alleges that the Trustees of Boston College have violated their fiduciary and charitable legal responsibilities by maintaining fossil fuel investments and thereby, “damaging the world’s natural systems, harming poor people and communities of color, and imperiling the university’s financial and physical well-being.” 

This letter represents a formal complaint being sent to the Attorney General’s office, not a lawsuit. However, the group has requested that an investigation be opened into the university’s conduct. Boston College could face investigation by Attorney General Healey’s office. In November 2019, Climate Justice Cornell filed a similar complaint, and 6 months later, Cornell University divested over $7 million from fossil fuel companies.

Michelle Wu, Boston City Councilor and candidate for Mayor of Boston, is among the signatories on the letter, as well as James Hansen, renowned climate scientist and activist who brought climate change to the attention of Congress in the 1980s.  Emily Norton, Newton City Councilor, and numerous climate action groups including the Better Future Project, Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, and others have all signed on to the letter as well. Various BC alumni have also signed on in support of the complaint.

In the complaint, the group claims that the Trustees of Boston College have violated Massachusetts and Federal law by maintaining investments in the fossil fuel industry. BC’s status as a nonprofit institution subjects the university to certain legal requirements regarding management of its assets. 

“The Trustees may not simply seek profit at all cost: the privileges that Boston College enjoys as a non-profit institution—including exemption from many state and federal taxes—come with the responsibility to ensure that its resources are put to socially beneficial ends. By dedicating university assets to destructive and illegal activity—an estimated $200 million in fossil fuel stocks—the Trustees have violated these duties to Boston College and the public.”

The letter alleges that the Trustees’ continued fossil fuel investments are in violation of their fiduciary duties as defined in the Massachusetts Uniform Prudential Management of Institutional Funds Act (UPMIFA), which determines how nonprofit organizations must make investment decisions. It lists several portions of the UPMIFA that pertain to the university’s investment in fossil fuels, highlighting stipulations that mandate a nonprofit or charitable organization to consider the charitable purpose of their institution, invest with prudence, and act with loyalty and good faith to the members of their community when making financial decisions. 

Under these guidelines, the complaint argues that Boston College’s investment decisions directly contradict their stated mission and core Jesuit Catholic values. It also cites the fossil fuel industry’s worsening economic collapse and history of fraudulent business practices as grounds for the Trustee’s violation of their duty to manage assets with prudence.

The 28-page document provides supporting documentation demonstrating how fossil fuel use contributes to climate change, the financial risk of investing in fossil fuel companies, and instances in which the Trustees have refused to consider divestment.

Student groups have called upon the University to divest from fossil fuels numerous times, including a 2018 UGBC resolution and a 2019 referendum on the UGBC ballot that passed with more than 80 percent of the vote.

Climate Justice Boston College, or CJBC, is not a direct party to the letter itself, but affirmed their support for the organizers of this complaint in a statement on Tuesday morning.

“We all want this university to be the best it can be: a world-class institution that produces research and forms students through a faith that does justice, committed to a just, equitable society...It cannot genuinely do that with investments in fossil fuel companies that harm BIPOC communities, hurt their own workers, hurt our environment, and ultimately lose money for our school.”

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