Good Stand, Bad Tactics
THE ADVISORY Committee on Shareholder Responsibility took the right stand last week on Arkansas Power and Light's emission control plans for its proposed White Bluff plant. The ACSR correctly pointed out that AP&L's policy of simply staying within the relatively lax legal limits on sulfur dioxide emissions "expresses too limited a view of appropriate corporate responsibility concerning environmental protection." And in a footnote to its report on the plant, the ACSR also came out strongly in favor of the installation of special "scrubbers" on the plant's smokestacks in order to cut down on the sulfur dioxide emissions.
Officials of the Arkansas Community Organization for Reform Now, the group that asked Harvard six months ago to help fight the plant, were understandably happy with the ACSR statement; they had, after all, gotten the ACSR to recommend for the first time intervention by Harvard on a shareholder issue that did not involve a proxy resolution. However, the ACSR recommendations may be too little, too late to have any real effect.
The ACSR unfortunately treated its complaints about AP&L's environmental policy as a private dispute between itself and the utility instead of the public issue it really is. In insisting that Harvard intervene in the matter only as a shareholder, not as a university, the ACSR implied a separation between Harvard and the holdings that finance it that does not exist. By making the shareholder-university distinction, the ACSR apparently ruled out the idea of Harvard's intervening in the licensing procedures for the plant. So the ACSR's recommendations, if implemented, probably won't do much good: Harvard will write a letter to AP&L stating its objections, and AP&L will politely ignore it.
When the Corporation Subcommittee on Shareholder Responsibility considers the ACSR's recommendations this month, it should go along with the spirit of the ACSR statement but should change its tactics. It is too late for Harvard to undertake a full-scale study of the plant, but the University can still provide a countervailing force to AP&L by sending down one or two of the professors who have been studying the plant for the ACSR to testify. Even if it doesn't send professors, the Corporation subcommittee should communicate Harvard's stand not only to AP&L, but also to the public service commission, where it might do more good.