On December 7, the Presbyterian Mission Agency issued a press release on behalf of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Here it is: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/mrti-urges-phillips-66-reconsider-dapl-investment/. They proudly announce that MRTI had “submitted a shareholder resolution to the Phillips 66 Corporation on November 22 urging it to reconsider its investment guidelines as they pertain to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and future projects.” Well, one might think, “Thank goodness MRTI is on the case!”
The release then goes on to explain: “At issue with Phillips’ significant investment in the $3.8 billion DAPL project are the environmental and human rights concerns raised by those opposed to the pipeline, including the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The pipeline would run near the tribe’s territorial lands and under its waters.”
Then there are a few paragraphs describing what a shareholder resolution is, and so on, followed by some self-righteous, self-congratulatory rhetoric from two members of MRTI, John Hougen and Joseph Kinard. They point out how splendid it is that we still own stock in this company because now “we know who to talk to” and we can “advocate” with them. Being in relationship with such companies “creates positive leverage for change. Kinard even went so far as to compare these efforts favorably with the example of the Lord Jesus, who engaged “people and corporations where they are.” And Phillips 66 is to be commended because they have been so “willing to engage” with MRTI.
Then we get to read the resolution itself. It merely asks that the company “prepare a report to shareholders, at reasonable cost and omitting proprietary information, that describes the due diligence process used to identify and address environmental and social risks, including Indigenous rights risk, in reviewing potential acquisitions.” Then it stipulates what it wants this report to address, mainly that they should say who is responsible for this process, and how they deal with various risks and standards. They are to indicate whether they have an exit option from the DAPL, and whether they will adjust its policies so this doesn’t happen again.
That’s it. It does not urge the company “to reconsider” anything. And this resolution will probably not be addressed until the next shareholders’ meeting sometime in the second quarter of 2017. That is, before the end of June.
After that all talk about advocating for environmental, human, and tribal rights, and even following Jesus, did we expect the resolution, to be challenging, faithful, prophetic, and specific? Forget it. All MRTI is doing is asking the company a few polite questions. This, apparently, is “engagement.” It’s about “raising questions.” We don’t want to jeopardize our relationship, I guess.
Why couldn’t the resolution say: “Phillips 66 will abandon its participation in the Dakota Access Pipeline project”? Why couldn’t the resolution list the reasons why this project is an assault on God’s creation, deliberately routed around the white people in Bismarck, and thrust into Indigenous land? Why couldn’t the resolution talk in some specifics about the track record of such pipelines? Why couldn’t the resolution affirm that we have to leave this oil in the ground for the sake of the planetary climate?
No. Instead we get: “Which committees, departments and/or managers are responsible for review, oversight and verification?” Seriously?
The forces building this pipeline have already announced that they intend to push ahead with this project as soon as they have a friend in the White House. They’re not going to wait until some shareholders’ meeting.
Then we get to hear from “Rob Fohr, director of the Office of Faith-Based Investing and Corporate Engagement that advises MRTI’s work.” His contribution is to say that, “We would like to see Phillips 66 lead the way by having the most transparent processes with respect to assessing and disclosing environmental and social risks so that these types of situations can be avoided on future projects.”
Future projects!? The whole fossil fuel industry is one big environmental and social catastrophe to begin with. Who cares if Phillips 66 is more transparent with their processes? How much more transparent can they be? They’re about making money finding, extracting, transporting, and burning fossil fuels.
If anything, this press release demonstrates the futility of the MRTI process, and their relationship to this industry in particular. (Our mission dollars are paying these guys, by the way.) The General Assembly had a chance to divest from this industry last summer. MRTI manipulated that process to ensure that we stayed “engaged” with them. This press release, and the astonishingly ineffective and tepid stockholders’ resolution it promotes, is the result.
Meanwhile, because we remain engaged, which is to say, benefiting from having stock in these companies, we, the PCUSA, remains part of the problem. As partial owners of Phillips 66 we are directly responsible for the abomination of this pipeline. I was bitterly aware of this fact as I stood with over 500 clergy in prayer against the project. I was on one side of the barricade, but my denomination and my money was on the other side, with the petrochemical industry.
The press release has the gall to conclude by gratuitously, cynically, and inappropriately quoting out of context Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II, as if the tribe itself endorsed the “constructive engagement” option with these companies. Archambault and his people have known engagement with these companies mainly in the form of water-cannons, rubber-bullets, and dog cages.
The PCUSA needs to move to a “keep it in the ground” strategy regarding fossil fuels, which will necessarily preclude owning stock in them, since it rejects their very mission.