FAQs

Who are the 15 coal companies?

We’re asking Brown to divest from the five largest US coal mining companies and the ten largest US coal-burning utilities. The official benchmarks are: any utility that produces more than 15,000 GwH from coal each year or any mining company that produces more than 50 million tons of coal each year.  Together, these 15 companies account for 40% of the coal consumed and 60% of the coal produced in this country.

Utilities: American Electric Power, Ameren, Duke, Dominion, Xcel, Southern Company, NRG, PPL, MidAmerican, FirstEnergy.

Mining: Arch Coal, Alpha, Peabody, Cloud Peak, Consol.

How can we monitor coal production and consumption?

These companies are required to publish information about coal production and consumption in their annual 10-K business reports. These reports are publicly available.

Who is running this campaign?

This is a student campaign. It’s organized and run entirely by Brown undergraduates! We’re part of a national movement of divestment campaigns happening on campuses all across the country. We’ve gotten support and advice from a coalition of environmental groups that includes the Sierra Club, the Responsible Endowments Coalition, and As You Sow, and we’ve hosted an event with 350.org.

Brown Divest Coal is a sub-group of emPower, an umbrella group for student environmental activism at Brown. We also work with Students for a Just and Stable Future. 

How many people have signed the petition?

More than 3200 (and growing by the minute!). That includes 2800 undergraduates and graduate students, more than 300 alumni, and more than 100 staff and faculty.

Will this hurt our endowment?

No. Brown has divested from South Africa, Sudan/Darfur, Tobacco, and HEI Hotels and Resorts without suffering any damage to its endowment. What’s more, investment professionals have said repeatedly that coal is a terrible investment. The administration has said that our investments in coal amount to only .1% of the total value of our endowment, so divestment is unlikely to hurt the university’s budget.

What about other fossil fuels like oil and natural gas?

We need to confront the power of the fossil fuel industry now, and divestment from coal is something that Brown can do immediately. We eventually hope to begin a campus conversation about all fossil fuels. For now, though, we’re focused on getting Brown to divest from these 15 coal companies.

What is divestment?

Like most colleges and universities, Brown has an endowment. The endowment is a huge sum of money (approximately $2.5 billion) that has been built up through donations over time. Brown invests the endowment in stocks, real estate, bonds, and hedge funds, and then uses the profit from these investments to pay professors, construct new buildings, and more. Divesting means selling Brown’s investments in a particular industry or group of companies.

Does divestment make a difference?

Absolutely! In the 1980s, hundreds of colleges, churches, and cities across the US divested from companies that did business in South Africa. The divestments raised awareness and helped put pressure on the regime, ultimately contributing to the end of apartheid. By divesting from coal, universities can show the industry, political leaders, and the general public that it is unacceptable to continue profiting from the planet’s destruction.

 Is Brown invested in coal?

Yes. The administration has confirmed that we are invested in at least some of the companies on our list.

What about people who work in the coal industry?

The coal industry is increasingly mechanized; coal mines have hired fewer and fewer workers over the past few decades. They rely on massive machines instead. Coal no longer provides the kind of economic support it once did; even in West Virginia, only 6% of the workforce is directly employed in coal mining. We know we need to find economic alternatives to coal — divestment is a way to begin standing up to the political power of the coal industry.

What about clean coal?

When politicians talk about “clean coal”, they’re mostly referring to carbon capture and storage (CCS). CCS would allow coal plants to capture the carbon dioxide they’re emitting and store it in underground formations where it can’t contribute to global warming. CCS is nice in theory, but so far it’s just that: theory. There are no commercial-scale coal plants currently operating with CCS anywhere in the world, and the technology remains extremely expensive. For now, the only way to have clean coal is by having no coal at all.

Tell me more about coal…

Tell me more about the Filthy 15….

  • American Electric Power is the country’s largest consumer of coal.
  • Peabody Coal is the largest private-sector coal mining company in the world.
  • Massey Energy (which has since been bought by Alpha Coal) operated the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, where an explosion in 2010 killed 29 workers — one of the worst coal mining disasters in American history.
  • In late November 2012, one worker was killed, and two others were seriously injured, when a sludge impoundment operated by Consol Energy collapsed.
  • Coal plants are often located in areas that are predominantly low-income, African-American, Hispanic, or Native American. This means that coal is a major environmental justice issue. The NAACP has created a list of the 12 US coal plants with the worst effects on the health of poor minority communities. Plants operated by Duke Energy, First Energy, Xcel and Dominion appear on the NAACP’s list.
  • The NRDC ranks power companies according to their emissions of CO2, SO2, NOx, and mercury. As of 2010, American Electric Power, Ameren, Dominion, Duke, Xcel, FirstEnergy, GenOn, Mid-American, PPL, and Southern Company were all among the 15 worst emitters in the country. The other 5 companies are privately held, or have since sold their coal holdings or gone bankrupt.

What are your sources? 

Below are some of the peer-reviewed academic articles and governmental sources that we’ve consulted in crafting our campaign. These are great resources if you’d like to know more about the coal industry and its effects on people and the planet.

Paul R. Epstein, Jonathan Buonocore, Kevin Eckerle, et al. 2011. “Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal.” The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

Hendryx, Michael and Melissa Ahern. 2008. “Relations Between Health Indicators and Residential Proximity to Coal Mining in West Virginia”. American Journal of Public Health.

Ahern, Melissa, Michael Hendryx, et al. “Association between mountaintop removal mining and birth defects”. 2011. Environmental Research.

Ruhl, Laura, Avner Vengosh, et al. 2012. “The Impact of Coal Combustion Residue Effluent on Water Resources: A North Carolina Example.” Environmental Science and Technology.

Ostro, Bart. 2004. “Outdoor air pollution”. WHO Environmental Burden of Disease Series. 

IEA. 2011. “World Energy Outlook 2011 – Executive Summary.”

Solomon, Susan, Gian-Kasper Plattern, Reto Knutti, et al. 2009. “Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions.” Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences.

Thomas, Chirs, Alsion Cameron, Rhys Green, et al. 2004. “Extinction rate due to climate change.” Nature.

US Global Change Research Program. 2009. “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.”