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Maine ready to divest from fossil fuels, and activists hope for a domino effect

“It’s beginning to look like there’s kind of a groundswell,” said Richard Brooks, climate finance director for Stand, an environmental group. “It’s a snowball effect. That snowball is accumulating speed and size as it’s rolling down the hill.”

If Maine can divest, Brooks added, “there’s no reason why any other jurisdiction in the United States can’t do it as well, and shouldn’t do it as well.”

Advocates say divesting from fossil fuel companies is one of a number of critical steps that humans must take to combat climate change.

The Maine legislation, which still needs Governor Janet Mills’s signature, would direct the Maine Public Employee Retirement System to divest all holdings in coal, oil, and gas companies. Currently, about $1.3 billion of the $17 billion fund is invested in fossil fuels. The bill also includes divestment from the state treasury’s cash pool and trust funds. The Legislature approved the bill earlier this month.

“We want to make sure that [the pension] fund is healthy and it’s going to be sustainable for generations to come. But we also have an obligation to the planet and to the next generation of people who are going to be managing all of the climate change impacts,” said Maine Senator Cathy Breen, who cosponsored the bill. “What I love about this bill is that it hits the right balance between those two things.”

In some states such as New York, treasury departments have committed to fossil fuel divestiture. Last year, the Minnesota State Board of Investment voted to divest from companies that derive more than a quarter of their revenue from thermal coal.

Activists say Maine’s bill also reflects a moment of national and global organizing.

“We know there is a mass movement of people who are hard at work building those solutions and making sure that there’s political will to cut ties with fossil fuels,” said Lindsay Meiman, a spokeswoman for the climate group 350.

Elsewhere in New England, efforts at the political level have been more modest, even though the region’s college campuses play host to fierce debates on the question of ethical investments. In Rhode Island, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner announced in April that the state’s pension fund reduced its investments in oil and gas by 50 percent. He predicted that the state would be fully divested by 2030, even though there is no mandate from the state legislature to do so. In 2015, Connecticut and Vermont considered divestment bills, but neither state passed the measures into law.

The landscape is complicated in Massachusetts, where cities and towns have backed the movement, but bills directing the state to divest have not found much support on Beacon Hill. Lawmakers and advocates hope Maine’s example will trigger movement in a Democratic-dominated Legislature that can be sluggish on progressive causes.

“Maine legislators deserve enormous praise for this visionary and deeply responsible piece of legislation. Massachusetts…

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2021-06-10 19:08:43

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