Climate Group Meets With New Mexico Attorney General’s Office About UNM Foundation Fossil Fuel Investments


UNM LEAF climate action group at the University of New Mexico (UNM) met with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office Friday Dec.17, two months after it filed a complaint with Attorney General Hector Balderas asserting that the UNM’s fossil fuel investments aren’t just immoral, but illegal.

Members of UNM LEAF (Leaders of Environmental Action and Foresight) say the Dec. 17 meeting went very well.

“Overall, I am pleased that the Attorney General Hector Balderas is taking the divestment complaint against the UNM Foundation seriously. Ultimately, it’s great to see the state show interest in the welfare of all New Mexicans,” UNM LEAF leader Cassandra Huneau said.

“It is clear that the AG’s office is taking our complaint very seriously,” said Stefi Weisburd, a member of UNM LEAF, a UNM Foundation donor and former UNM staff member. “It is unconscionable that the Foundation is investing in and reaping dividends from fossil fuel companies whose operations are harming frontline communities and threatening the lives and livelihoods of the very people the University was created to serve.”    

UNM LEAF provided an updated list of signatories to the complaint, which has more than doubled to over 220 individuals and organizations. Some notable signatories include State Senator President Pro Tempore Mimi Stewart, Former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, former New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Ray Powell, and several climate scientists who authored the state’s recent 50-year water plan. That report projects “staggering” temperature increases of 5-7 degrees F in New Mexico by 2050, with a profound loss of available water for all forms of life. 

The complaint, filed Oct. 26, alleges that the foundation’s $32 million fossil fuel holdings violate the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act, which UNM LEAF and its advising counsel at the non-profit Climate Defense Fund believe requires the Foundation, as a non-profit charity, to invest in line with UNM’s missions and values.

Because fossil fuel companies in the Foundation’s portfolio, especially those operating in New Mexico, directly harm frontline communities through extraction activities and air pollution, owning these companies contravenes UNM missions and values. These include promoting environmental and cultural stewardship, enhancing the wellbeing of New Mexican communities and preparing an enlightened student body for the future.

Studies have shown that air pollution from fossil fuels, as well as heat from climate change, negatively impact learning outcomes and the mental health of young people. It clearly is subverting its educational goals for UNM, which conducts a considerable amount of remediation of incoming students, to support companies that contribute to these deficits.  

In 2015, the UNM Foundation adopted an investment policy prohibiting socially responsible investing, and specifically the use of ESG factors. When the group asked to present its concerns about this policy and other fiduciary concerns to the UNM Regents, which oversee the Foundation policies, their request was denied. 

The Complaint says this denial constitutes a violation of the Foundation’s duty to act in good faith, and the policy itself keeps the Foundation and the Regents from accounting for the clear conflicts between their own fiduciary duties and the Foundation’s investments in fossil fuel companies.

While adding the Rio Grande Water Advocates to the complaint, former Interstate Stream Commissioner Norm Gaume wrote,“UNM investments in fossil fuels will make life much more difficult for New Mexicans. New Mexico is the driest of the United States. Temperature increases from greenhouse gasses will rob New Mexico of a huge amount of its current sparse water supplies. Protect our water. Divest to protect New Mexico’s future.”

UNM LEAF maintains that the Foundation’s indifference to the consequences of its investments is part of a general pattern of disinterest among the UNM leadership in addressing the climate crisis at any level and in any way despite being a member of the University Climate Change Coalition.

After the Oct. 29 climate change rally on campus, UNM LEAF students spoke to President Stokes who assured the students she cares about “the planet”, but said, “divestment is not a priority”. Students say time is up for UNM and they want to see real climate solutions.

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