By ANDREW SELSKY, Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The state of Oregon should divest from the fossil fuels industry to protect both the environment and its investments, three Oregon lawmakers said Wednesday as a new study put the level of that investment at almost $1.8 billion.
“The Oregon Treasury, which manages $130 billion of the state’s investment portfolio, is invested in oil, gas, and coal companies responsible for our climate emergency,” Reps. Khanh Pham, Paul Holvey and Jeff Golden said in a column published in The Oregonian/OregonLive, the state’s largest newspaper.
The three Democratic lawmakers announced that they will introduce a bill in the 2022 legislative session, which begins Feb. 1, “to disclose Oregon’s fossil fuel holdings so the public can clearly understand our state’s financial and climate risks.”
The burning of fossil fuels like coal and gas emits gases that are a leading cause of global warming and climate change. Oregon has been suffering the effects of climate change, with wildfires getting worse, a record-breaking heat wave last summer that killed more than 100 people, and a severe drought affecting much of the state.
Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read, in an interview last summer with Oregon Public Radio, wouldn’t be pinned down on the amount of the state’s fossil fuel investments.
“It’s not just public equities, it’s also private equity, it’s also bonds,” said Read, a Democrat who’s running for governor in the 2022 election. “So we’re selling and buying bonds literally every day. So it changes.”
A group called the Climate Safe Pensions Network said in a report released Wednesday that the Oregon state employee pension fund’s investment in fossil fuels totals $1.77 billion, including investments with Exxon Mobile, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips and Marathon Petroleum.
The Climate Safe Pensions Network describes itself as a network of pension divestment and shareholder advocacy campaigns, coordinated and supported by Stand.earth.
“The fastest way for pensions to address climate change is to divest fossil fuel holdings and invest in just and equitable climate solutions,” said Amy Gray, Stand.earth’s senior climate finance strategist.
In their newspaper column, the three Oregon legislators challenged the state Treasury to “take a compelling first step toward bold climate leadership by disclosing the state’s fossil fuel holdings as soon as possible.”
“Accountability begins when we can follow the money,” they said.
The Treasury department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the newspaper column or the report.
But John Russell, the chairman of the Oregon Investment Council, said during a meeting Wednesday that divesting from fossil fuels and other questionable sectors goes beyond the council’s mandate.
“Divestiture is, basically, our body becoming an activist body, which I don’t think it was ever intended to be,” said Russell, whose council oversees the investment and allocation of all state of Oregon trust funds, including the Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund.
However, Russell added that if the Legislature wants to change the statutes that the council operates under or advise the council, its members would be “open to that.”
He noted that before Wednesday’s meeting, the council’s staff received over 200 pages of public written comments and some 1,500 phone calls on the issue of divestment, though he said not all supported fossil fuel divestment.
Opponents of divestment argue that funds would lose whatever leverage they might have with the companies they’re involved with. Divestment advocates say that besides an effort to combat climate change, there’s also a financial incentive, with the value of share offerings in fossil fuel companies dropping.
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