General Assembly backgrounder: immigration and environmental issues

Committee will consider overture to divest from fossil fuel companies

June 12, 2014


An overture (15-01) urging the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to divest from fossil fuel companies will be before the Assembly Committee on Immigration and Environmental Issues at the 221st General Assembly in Detroit, June 14-21.

The overture, submitted by Boston Presbytery, says that fossil fuel use is on a trajectory that will create catastrophic environmental consequences. “If fossil fuel companies simply fulfill their business model, the earth will become irreversibly inhospitable to life as we know it,” the overture maintains.

It calls for the PC(USA)’s Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation to immediately stop new investments in fossil fuel companies and to remove all investments in coal, oil and gas companies within five years. The overture has received concurrence from 11 presbyteries: Arkansas, Florida, Geneva, Hudson River, Mid Kentucky, Monmouth, Northern Plains, San Francisco, San Jose, Redwoods and Twin Cities.

If the overture passes, the PC(USA) would become the second U.S. denomination to commit itself to divestment from fossil fuel companies. The United Church of Christ’s General Synod during its gathering last summer approved a plan that for fossil fuel divestment.

Other business before the Immigration and Environmental Issues Committee includes:

  • An overture (15-02) from the Southern New England Presbytery to affirm sustainable development and the “precautionary principle” ― a precept that holds an action shouldn’t be taken if scientific evidence suggests that the results could be dangerous. If embraced by U.S. law, the precautionary principle “would fundamentally shift the burden of proof of the safety of products and processes for the public,” the overture contends. Presently, according to the overture, when there are uncertainties surrounding the safety of a new technology, freedom of action trumps precaution and alternatives. In contrast, the precautionary principle places the burden on the developers of new technologies to show they are safe.  The overture cites genetically-modified crops, toxic chemicals, and nanotechnology as technologies that pose a threat.
  • An overture (15-03) from Seattle Presbytery that asks the General Assembly to “affirm the decision of civil authorities to conduct a full, programmatic review and assessment of the impact of expanded coal export projects in Washington and Oregon to energy markets in Asia on human health and the well-being of communities along the Northwest rail lines.” The overture says the dust generated by the transport of coal in barges and trains from states such as Wyoming and Montana to ports in the Pacific Northwest presents health risks. It also notes the health and environmental risks caused by burning coal.
  • An overture (15-04) from Central Florida Presbytery to recognize the formation of the Presbyterian Immigration Defense Initiative. This campaign, the overture says, advocates for the human rights of new immigrants and works with those “seeking justice under a broken immigration system.”

All matters related to immigration and environmental issues will be considered by Assembly Committee 15 ― Immigration and Environmental Issues. Pat Cole, a communications specialist in the Funds Development office of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, will cover Committee 15 for the General Assembly Communication Center.

  1. To continue to ignore the effects of global warming is in my opinion indefensible and against God's plan that we were created to show love not just towards every human being , but towards the environment as well. Churches are usually on the back end of social change, but divestment will happen because of universities and municipalities taking a stand and the abundance of solar and wind power. Let us begin to spread the good news of redemption of the global climate by divesting!

    by Brian Rhinesmith

    June 15, 2014

  2. The divestment from fossil fuels overture is a moral issue first and foremost. We are called to care for creation. Profiting from an industry, even though we regrettably participate in it, who is spending millions to lobby Congress not to implement pollution standards is indefensible for our denomination. Our divestments, as Ken points out, are just a small percentage, but as more faith organizations, universities, towns and cities take this stand, perhaps our elected officials will find the courage to stand up to the lobbyists of the coal, oil and gas companies and take the action necessary to care for creation now and for the future.

    by Rick Johnson

    June 14, 2014

  3. It appears we are more political than concern about spreading the word of God's love and forgiveness.

    by Eva Thorburn

    June 14, 2014

  4. please provide pcusa's percentage(%) of holdings in each company from which it plans to divest. it is my guess that this number seldom. if ever, exceeds 1 percent(%). this is the classic case of the flea attempting to bite through the hide of an elephant. if pcusa plans to punish someone you need o hit him upside the head with a 2x4. if psusa plans to "send a message" prepare to be a well earned object of ridicule. OGA continues to be a rudderless, leaderless ship, unable to confront the single major issue of the to repair a domestic sub-society that now for perhaps the fourth or fifth generation continues to produce and reproduce throw away children(who, in 20 years become throw away adults), unable to generate even a tiny portion of the entitlements which they inevitably consume(burn, as in a moth to a flame). finally, pcusa needs to divest itself from its height-ashbury/muslin agenda or continue to unravel for lack of courage/credibility.

    by kenneth m ross

    June 13, 2014