Religious Shareholder Activists Promote Energy Poverty
Religion & Liberty Online

Religious Shareholder Activists Promote Energy Poverty

Your humble writer takes no pleasure in reminding readers that he told them so, but a post from last December now seems prescient. The post began:

In the wake of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, or COP21), so-called “religious” shareholder activists are intent on ruining investments, crashing the economy and doubling down on their efforts to promote energy poverty throughout the world.

At that time, focus was on the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and the Church Investors Group, but now comes other groups of religious shareholder activists, As You Sow and Boston Common Asset Management (with a little help from their fellow religious friends at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Trillium Asset Management, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia and Walden Asset Management), intent on making hay off COP21 pronouncements by spreading misinformation on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the group’s latest report, Disclosing the Facts: Transparency and Risk in Hydraulic Fracturing. Hoo boy.

Suffice it to say the report’s disclaimer is longer and far more detailed than those featured in pharmaceutical advertisements:

The information in this report has been prepared from sources and data the authors believe to be reliable, but we assume no liability for and make no guarantee as to its adequacy, accuracy, timeliness, or completeness. Boston Common Asset Management, LLC may have invested in and may in the future invest in some of the companies mentioned in this report. The information in this report is not designed to be investment advice regarding any security, company, or industry and should not be relied upon to make investment decisions. We cannot and do not comment on the suitability or profitability of any particular investment. All investments involve risk, including the risk of losing principal. No information herein is intended as an offer or solicitation of an offer to sell or buy, or as a sponsorship of any company, security, or fund. Opinions expressed and facts stated herein are subject to change without notice.

Just so. In fact the authors – Richard Liroff, Investor Environmental Health Network; Danielle Fugere, As You Sow; and Steven Helm, Boston Common Asset Management – acknowledge significant increases in reporting and transparency with a concomitant reduction of environmental stressors across the fracking industry. Yet, the authors are pretty insistent on their recommendations for fracking companies, which includes:

1. Companies should disclose their leak detection and repair programs for methane emissions, providing information on program scope (percentage of facilities/assets covered), technologies deployed, frequency of inspection, and results.

2. Companies should develop systems to track community concerns and corporate responses and provide such information to senior management, corporate boards of directors, investors, and other stakeholders.

3. Companies not using diesel or BTEX chemicals in their fracturing fluids should disclose this, and companies not relying on their own toxicity scoring systems should draw on those of their principal chemical suppliers to report progress in reducing toxicity of fracturing fluids….

7. Companies should link executive compensation to corporate performance on health, safety, and environmental indicators, and should incorporate metrics beyond the injury and spill data which are most commonly relied on in such linked compensation systems. Additional metrics might include, for example, measures to reduce companies’ environmental impact, such as implementation of leak detection and repair programs and progress towards greenhouse gas reduction goals.

8. Government agencies and the oil and gas industry should work together to develop more systematic research and data on the human health effects (including worker health) of hydraulic fracturing operations. This might follow the model of the U.S. government and the automobile industry agreeing on creation of the Health Effects Institute to produce credible, broadly accepted research on the health effects of air pollution.

Pardon me, but how is any of this really anywhere near the house on the highway leading to the city with the parking lot next to the ballpark in which investors typically operate? The quick answer is the AYS car’s transmission is in reverse, traveling at warp speed away from rather than toward that ballpark.

I bring up warp speed because the foundation headed by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s son is also acknowledged in the report. Perhaps AYS and its cohorts perceive humanity’s on the brink of discovering the dilithium crystals that will power Earth’s matter/anti-matter drives in the post-fossil fuel future they desire.

In fact, returning to the ballpark referenced above, AYS is attempting to cover all the bases in its efforts to hobble the energy industry. Not only do AYS recommendations – if accepted – present negative repercussions to industry earnings and shareholder dividends, but the group actively promotes fossil-fuel divestment. Who didn’t see that slow-pitch coming?

However one pokes fun at AYS’s initiative, none of it is actually cute, nor is it even remotely funny. Their anti-fossil fuel crusade harms not only the companies in which they invest or advocate divestment but as well fellow shareholders and those saving hundreds of dollars in fuel costs rendered by fracking. A March 2015 report from The Brookings Institution found:

The recent shale gas boom (“fracking”) in the United States has been beneficial to the economy, dropping natural gas prices 47 percent compared to what the price would have been prior to the fracking revolution in 2013, and has improved the economic well-being of consumers $74 billion per year. The authors estimate residential consumer gas bills have dropped $13 billion per year from 2007-2013 thanks to the fracking revolution, amounting to $200 per year for gas-consuming households.

In the first estimates of the economic welfare and distributional impacts of the U.S. shale boom, Catherine Hausman of the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan and Ryan Kellogg of the Department of Economics at the University of Michigan and the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) find that the expansion of the natural gas supply has reduced gas prices by $3.45 per 1000 cubic feet, and that the wholesale price reduction has been fully passed on to retail natural gas prices.

At this point it becomes necessary to take AYS at its word – at least the disclaimer in its report: “[W]e assume no liability for and make no guarantee as to its adequacy, accuracy, timeliness, or completeness.”

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.