(The Center Square) – The managers of Maine’s public sector retirement plans are being urged to cut their investment ties to the fossil fuel industry to promote clean energy.
A proposal that will be considered on Thursday by the Legislature’s Committee on Labor and Housing, would require the state Treasurer’s office to “divest” any fossil fuel holdings from its retirement portfolios by 2026.
Backers of the proposal say it would send a message to the fossil fuel industry that Maine is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to tackling climate change.
“Maine shouldn’t wait to divest our retirement savings from fossil fuels,” state Rep. Margaret O’Neill, D-Saco, one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “Any emissions enabled by our investments constitute a real portion of our carbon footprint, threatening our future. Our efforts to fight climate change must account for the impacts of our holdings.”
David Gibson, of the Maine Sierra Club, testified at a recent public hearing on the bill that fossil fuel investments are not only morally wrong, but costing the state’s pensioners money.
He said fossil fuel holdings have lost value in recent years and pension fund managers would have made more money for retirees if they had pulled those investments years ago.
“Even prior to the pandemic and recession, the MainePERS fossil fuel investments had lost millions of dollars,” Gibson testified. “Their insistence on gambling retiree’s benefits in the fossil fuel industry cost the Maine Retirement system more than $1 billion over the last 6 years leading up to the pandemic.
Overall, the environmental group said an analysis of the state’s employee retirement systems show at least $1.3 billion, including $172 million in publicly traded fossil fuel companies.
Maine’s roughly $11.1 billion public-employee pension system covers the retirements of nearly 89,000 current and retired workers.
The effort is part of a broader national movement pressuring big institutional funds to pull their investments in fossil-fuel companies and divert the money to the clean energy sector.
But David O’Donnell, associate director of the Northeast chapter of the American Petroleum Institute, said the divestment effort ignores the contributions of oil, gas and other fossil fuels.
“The combustion of fossil fuels over the centuries has enabled the development of economies and the betterment of human welfare around the world,” he said in testimony against the proposal. “And at this moment there is no viable alternative to oil and gas with the requisite reliability and at the necessary cost and scale.”
O’Donnell said targeting the supply of fossil fuel energy that is used by major companies also ignores “the direct contribution from those individuals, businesses and others that emit carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels on the demand side.”
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