The University of Maine System is moving to reduce its investments in coal.

The UMS Investment Committee voted 4-0 Wednesday to divest from direct investments in coal mining companies and to avoid future investments in the sector. If approved by the full board of trustees next month, the policy change would affect only about $500,000 of the roughly $9.8 million the system has invested in fossil fuels.

That $500,000 represents less than 1 percent of the $589 million contained in three funds affected by the decision: the managed investment pool, which includes the system’s endowment, the defined-benefit pension fund for employees, and the operating fund.

Maine’s public universities would join the small but growing list of higher education institutions nationwide that are stepping away from coal or other fossil fuels largely in response to concerns about the connection between carbon dioxide emissions and climate change.

Unity College, a private college in central Maine, in 2012 became the first institution in the country to divest all fossil fuels from its endowment investments. The UMS Investment Committee opted not to go that far after New England Pension Consultants warned that divesting entirely from fossil fuels could hurt the system’s financial returns, affect the ability to manage risk and increase operational costs. Instead, the system is following the coal-only divestment strategy adopted by Stanford University this year.

“I think this is the conclusion of that work,” Tracy Elliott, finance director and controller of the University of Maine System, said when asked whether the committee planned to look at further divestments of fossil fuel holdings.

The shift would not eliminate all university system investments in coal.

According to an analysis by New England Pension Consultants for the committee, the system has nearly $1.7 million of “investment exposure” to coal between the managed investment pool, the pension fund and operating fund. The divestiture policy would not liquidate coal investments that are included in mutual or co-mingled funds.


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