Presbyterian Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment approves selective divestment list that includes five fossil fuel companies

Decision clears the way for denomination to move away from companies that don’t meet General Assembly guidelines

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Rob Fohr is director of the Office of Faith-Based Investing and Corporate Engagement. (Photo by Michael Whitman)

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment has approved its divestment/proscription list for 2023, incorporating five energy companies that the 225th General Assembly agreed should be added to the list for lack of alignment with PC(USA) policy.

The committee took action on the list during a meeting on Friday in which Rob Fohr, Director of the Office of Faith-Based Investing and Corporate Engagement, gave an overview of the growing list of companies that have failed to meet the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s guideline metric frameworks on environmental, social and governance issues. (Find the full list here.)

Fohr took time to emphasize that the five fossil fuel companies — Chevron, ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum, Phillips 66 and Valero — are the first businesses to land on the list for purely environmental reasons.

“This is … a historic list because it’s the first ever that includes not only military, tobacco, (for-profit) prisons and human rights violations but also environmental,” Fohr said.

The MRTI-approved list will be going before the Boards of the Board of Pensions and Presbyterian Foundation later this year for review.

The 225th General Assembly voted in July to approve a recommendation from MRTI to divest from the energy companies that had failed to meet denominational criteria despite engagement efforts by MRTI and staff from the Office of Faith-Based Investing.

The vote followed earlier debate during the General Assembly about whether PC(USA) should take a more categorical approach to divestment. The Rev. Kerri Allen, who chairs the MRTI committee, has said that selective divestment has a greater impact on companies that are not meeting standards.

Phillips 66 is on the Divestment/Proscription List approved by MRTI. (Photo by Darla Carter)

This year’s Divestment/Proscription List, which includes more than 100 companies, is longer than last year’s not only because of the addition of the fossil fuel companies but because of there being more entities related to military and weapons production. Their inclusion reflects PC(USA)’s concern about overall spending on the military, over-dependence on military contracts by companies, and weapons that do not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.

Regarding companies that produce weapons that can lead to mass injuries, Fohr said, “With the war in Ukraine and other conflicts around the world, more companies are running afoul of this.”

In other business, the committee discussed the possibility of creating communications tools to help address any questions that might be generated by a movement in some states to push back against using ESG — environmental, social and governance — criteria when making investment decisions. Some politicians have embraced the movement as an election issue and a way to paint socially responsible investing in a negative light. A subset of the committee will be examining the matter further in hopes of coming up with a statement or resource, such as a question-and-answer page, for the denomination.

MRTI is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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