The University of Michigan Board of Regents announced Feb. 20 it will pause new direct fossil fuel investments while considering adjustments to the university’s policies on how it invests endowment funds.

Regent Mark Bernstein shared the news on behalf of the board, pledging to proceed with the policy review and “take any appropriate action” in the coming months.

“The Board of Regents is interested in considering the investment policy of the University of Michigan with regard to fossil fuels,” Bernstein said.

“We will not bring forward new direct investments in fossil fuel companies while we study the investment policy of the University of Michigan with regard to all fossil fuel investments in a deliberative, thorough, inclusive and responsible manner.”

The announcement comes as the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, created in early 2019, works toward recommendations, including a timeline, for all U-M campuses to achieve carbon neutrality. The commission is expected to issue a final report this fall.

In a separate discussion for a planned building addition on North Campus, Bernstein said U-M staff should provide a building life cycle assessment for any future capital projects to determine the environmental impacts and carbon footprint for new construction.

“Capital projects must be aligned with the ambitious goal to be carbon neutral by 2030,” said Bernstein, adding that he wouldn’t vote to approve any future projects without this assessment.

President Mark Schlissel said the university’s carbon neutrality commission is “tasked with exactly what you are talking about,” including developing realistic timelines.

“We’re already building into all of our analyses and building plans, how will we, in the fullness of time, achieve neutrality in light of this building plan,” Schlissel said. “So, thank you for calling it out, and I also thank our colleagues who are on the presidential commission and are actually doing the work and the heavy lifting and helping us understand how to do this.”

The pause on new direct fossil fuel investments reflects similar decisions across the country as universities re-examine investment policies in response to concerns from students and others about climate change.

Last month, the Association of Big Ten Students passed a resolution sponsored by representatives from the U-M Central Student Government urging all Big Ten schools to freeze fossil fuel investments and commit to divestment in 2020.

At a board meeting in December, regents voted against a proposed investment in Vendera Resources, a Dallas, Texas-based manager that invests primarily in mature, producing oil and gas properties in the U.S.

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