Four Yale Trustees accused of conflict of interest for fossil fuel ties
Four current and former Yale Corporation members were alleged to have connections to fossil fuel companies in a recent EJC complaint.
Lukas Flippo, Senior Photographer
Four Yale Trustees with ties to the fossil fuel industry are under fire for alleged conflict of interest due to their role in approving the University’s fossil fuel investment principles.
The 83 page complaint that the Endowment Justice Coalition submitted to Connecticut Attorney General William Tong last week c that the University’s continued investment in the fossil fuel industry violates state law. The complaint names Charles Goodyear IV ’80, Joshua L. Steiner ’87, William Earl Kennard LAW ’81 and Paul Joskow GRD ’70 ’72 because of their ties to fossil fuel companies. The complaint does not include evidence that the members’ ties have affected their input to the University’s highest governing body, but organizer Avery Long ’24 said that “it’s something that we really can’t ignore as a possibility.”
“I found it so eye opening to look into this and find direct evidence of the ties that people have to these organizations,” Josie Steuer Ingall ’24, an organizer for the EJC, said. “They’re really personally enriched at the end of the day by both the capital and the social legitimacy that Yale lends to fossil fuel related exploitation. And it feels like such a damning indictment.”
The four Corporation members collectively referred comment to Martha Schall, associate vice president of institutional affairs, who directed the News to previous steps that the University has taken to distance itself from the fossil fuel industry. These steps include setting new carbon reduction targets, implementing new principles regarding fossil fuel investments to guide Yale’s endowment, and launching the Planetary Solutions Project.
EJC members Ingall and Melissa Wang ’23, said that it is difficult to track direct influence that the trustees’ ties could have on their work at Yale because of a lack of transparency in the governance council — Yale Corporation meeting minutes are sealed for 50 years, they noted.
Long ’24 said the inclusion of members’ ties to fossil fuels in the recent complaint does not necessarily represent an allegation that the Corporation members were changing their behavior due to the conflict of interest. But because of “the high level ties that do exist,” Long said, the possibility should not be ruled out.
“That’s something that we think the attorney general should consider when determining whether or not to make an investigation,” Long added.
Goodyear joined the Yale Corporation in 2011 as successor trustee and is on the Corporation’s Investment Committee. He served as the CEO of BHP Billiton — a petroleum, mining and metals company — from 2003 to 2007, before his appointment to the Corporation. He then served on the Board of Directors of Anadarko Petroleum, now Occidental Petroleum, from 2012 to 2015.
Steiner joined the Yale Corporation as a successor trustee in 2018. Steiner is currently on the board of Castleton Commodities International, which invests and trades in natural gas and oil.
Kennard joined as a successor trustee in 2014. He was a member of the Board of Directors of Duke Energy — an electric power and natural gas holding company — from January 2014 to May 2021. Kennard was also formerly the managing director and Global Partner in the global telecommunications and media group at the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm that invests in oil and gas.
Joskow served on the Yale Corporation as a successor trustee from 2008 to 2020. Joskow has served as a member of Exelon’s Board of Directors since 2007. Exelon is one of the largest utility companies in the United States and uses fossil fuels to power its grid. Joskow also served as director of TransCanada, a natural gas company that first proposed the Keystone XL pipeline system, from 2004 to 2013.
This is not the first time that Goodyear and Joskow’s ties to the fossil fuel industry have come under scrutiny. Eight years ago, the Corporation struck down a divestment proposal following 18 months of advocacy from student group Fossil Fuel Yale. Goodyear and Joskow both served as trustees at the time, and did not state whether they had recused themselves from conversations surrounding divestment.
Several members of Fossil Fuel Yale expressed concerns over the potential conflict of interest. The corporation’s conflict of interest policy, the News reported at the time, had stated that trustees should “recuse themselves from discussion or voting in any instance where they or their family members have a financial interest.” But the policy contained a loophole that allowed trustees to be involved in decisions if it served the University’s interest.
A conflict of interest policy specifically for trustees is currently absent from the Yale Corporation’s By-Laws, Charter and Miscellaneous Regulations. Policies for Corporation members are not mentioned in the University’s official Conflict of Interest Policy.
None of the companies that the four Corporation members have ties to are on the list of fossil fuel producers ineligible for Yale investment due to ethical concerns, which was updated to include ExxonMobil and Chevron. However, because the University does not disclose its investments, Yale may not invest in the companies the Trustees have ties to.
Still, visiting lecturer at the Yale Law School Jennifer Skene LAW ’14 said that having any interest in fossil fuels threatens the University’s progress towards climate goals, regardless of whether Yale holds actual investments in the companies associated with the Corporation members.
“When we’re talking about addressing climate change, we are talking about completely dismantling our dependence on fossil fuels and decarbonizing our economy,” Skene said. “Any kind of financial interest that is propping up those industries and holding back our disentanglement with those climate harming sectors is going to be inimical to meeting our climate goals.”
Many of the fossil fuel companies listed above have taken steps to become more climate friendly. The Carlyle Group recently committed to being net zero by 2050, and Exelon recently divested from coal.
But Skene said that little should be made of these changes.
“There’s been a lot of greenwashing, especially in the last couple of years by fossil fuel companies in an attempt to avoid completely losing their social license,” Skene said. “They are a little better than window dressing. They fail to address the fundamental issue, which is that we cannot continue to be burning fossil fuels.”
Changes to the election process of Corporation members have also made it harder to push for change, according to A.J. Hudson ENV ’19 LAW ’23, a board member on Law Students for Climate Action. Since spring 2021, candidates can no longer petition to be on the Corporation ballot, so trustees must be appointed through official nomination.
“[Yale Corporation members’] job is to make sure the Fabergé egg doesn’t get cracked,” Hudson said. “Their job is not to stir things up, not to shake things around. And so it’s really a depressing reality.
Successor trustees are selected and appointed by the current board of trustees from among alumni of the University to serve up to two six-year terms.