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Green Action files legal complaint against WashU

and | Contributing and Staff Writer

A student speaks at a Green Action Rally outside of the DUC on Oct. 30

The environmental advocacy group Green Action WashU, formerly known as Fossil Free WashU, announced its filing of a legal complaint against Washington University at the Fossil Fuel Divestment Rally this Monday, Oct. 30. 

This legal complaint, filed in conjunction with five other universities collectively known as the Solidarity Six, is the most recent step in Green Action’s plan to end Washington University’s investment of unknown amounts of endowment money into fossil fuel sources.

Green Action executive and junior Liam Keaggy described the grounds of Green Action’s complaint.

“We filed a legal complaint with the Missouri attorney general against WashU, citing that they’re in violation of their duties as a nonprofit [under the Missouri Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act] by investing in fossil fuels,” said Keaggy. 

It is important to note that a legal complaint is not synonymous with a lawsuit. Junior Clara Dutton, a Green Action executive, described the perks of a legal complaint such as this one.

“Most of the benefit of these complaints in the past [was] getting press and attention and putting pressure on the school in that way,” she said. “We’re able to have legal action without having a direct lawsuit.”

The Solidarity Six — which includes environmental-justice-oriented student groups at Washington University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago, Pomona College, Pennsylvania State University, and Tufts University — is not the first to utilize the tactic of a joint legal complaint. Other universities have organized in a similar fashion.

“It’s a tactic that several other schools have already used,” Dutton said.“Notably, Harvard was one of the first schools, and there’s also the Fossil Free Five. We based a lot of our ideas off that group.”

Green Action’s rally on Monday was the most recent step in their campaign against fossil fuels. The rally, held at the Danforth University Center firepit, was attended by approximately 30 people, including Green Action members, professors, and passersby. 

Sophomore Juliana Morera, a Green Action executive, spoke about the Sustainability at Boeing recruitment event which occurred at Washington University on Oct. 24. Morera looked to examine Boeing’s statements about alternative fuel sources.

“Sustainability is about making efforts that are long-term solutions, not short-term fixes — because [Boeing is] in the hot seat for years of environmental degradation,” she said, “As an alternative, [Boeing] claims some biofuel is ‘reusing trash’ and that [Boeing] will be using ‘used cooking oil.’ Please tell me, who the hell is giving Boeing their cooking oil?”

Environmental racism and injustice was another focus at Green Action’s rally. A three-panel display describing the disproportionally harmful effects of climate change on minority groups was displayed prominently at the event. 

Green Action executive senior Aidan Lewis explained how the University’s perpetrating of environmental injustices through its investment in fossil fuels conflicts with its mission statement of contributing positively to the St. Louis community and the world.

“WashU says that they care about their students, but our generation is going to be the one that has to inherit this problem the most,” Lewis said, “It’s really a conflict of interest, especially at WashU where we’re in a very privileged area. Fossil fuels are one of the biggest contributors to environmental injustice in St. Louis, but as students of WashU we don’t have to deal with the consequences.”

However, not all who attended the rally were in agreement. Senior Tommaso Maiocco, a Finance and Marketing student, attended the rally with a sign simply stating “I respectfully disagree.” 

“I’m not anti-environmentalism,” Maiocco said, “I’m also not pro-environmentalism. I think that the divest movement is economically untenable, I think it’s scientifically untenable, and — based on the information that I have garnered — I disagree with it.”

Maiocco sat at the fringe of the gathering but was briefly approached by a few Green Action members in attendance. 

“They came over and asked what I thought,” Maiocco said, “I said I disagreed with this, and I gave them my thoughts, and then they gave me their thoughts. It was very cordial, very good.”

Despite the biting wind and frigid temperatures, reactions to the event — especially to the legal complaint — were largely positive. First-year and new Green Action member Ben Gondzur described the rally as being “really inspiring.” 

Senior Spencer Kates spoke about the appeal of Green Action’s legal complaint.

“It’s nice to see actual movements towards the University and actual accountability,” Kates said. “It makes me feel like there’s actual proper support for [divestment] here.”

The University has yet to respond to Green Action’s rally or legal approach.

Bret Gustafson, a professor of sociocultural anthropology who has been attending Green Action rallies since 2014, encouraged students to maintain hope. 

“Students are able to raise the level of pressure significantly,” said Gustafson. “You never know — the University might just change.”

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