Maine Lawmakers Pass Bill to Divest State Pension from Fossil Fuels as Oil Usage Grows

Demonstrators from Friends of the Earth, Oil Change International, Sierra Club, and Greenpeace, protest against Japanese financing of coal projects November 13, 2015 in front of the building that the Japan Bank for International Cooperation has offices, in downtown Washington, DC. The group called on Japan to stop publically financing …
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images

Environmentalists are praising lawmakers in Maine for passing legislation to divest the state’s pension investment and other funds from fossil fuel companies.

The Boston Globe is touting the growing popularity of dumping fossil fuels investments in the name of climate change and reported Maine’s bill makes it the first state to authorize divestiture.

Other states looking at doing the same include California, New York, Minnesota, and Massachusetts.

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

“We want to make sure that [the pension] fund is healthy and it’s going to be sustainable for generations to come,” Maine state Senator Cathy Breen, said. “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.”

The Globe reported:

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.

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.

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,” Lindsay Meiman, a spokeswoman for the climate group 350, said.

“Maine legislators deserve enormous praise for this visionary and deeply responsible piece of legislation. Massachusetts should follow suit,” Deb Pasternak, the Sierra Club’s Massachusetts director, said. “Pension funds, which are fundamentally about the long term, should divest from the greatest threat posed to our collective future. Let’s hope this inspires more action here in Massachusetts, in New England, and across the entire country.”

But according to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA), fossil fuel use is growing in the United States and around the globe:

We estimate that 96.2 million b/d of petroleum and liquid fuels was consumed globally in May, an increase of 11.9 million b/d from May 2020 but 3.7 million b/d less than in May 2019. We forecast that global consumption of petroleum and liquid fuels will average 97.7 million b/d for all of 2021, which is a 5.4 million b/d increase from 2020. We forecast that global consumption of petroleum and liquid fuels will increase by 3.6 million b/d in 2022 to average 101.3 million b/d.

We forecast OPEC crude oil production will average 26.9 million b/d in 2021 and 28.7 million b/d in 2022. OPEC crude oil production in the forecast rises from 25.0 million b/d in April to an average of 28.0 million b/d in 3Q21. Our expectation of rising OPEC production is primarily based on our assumption that OPEC will raise production by about 1 million b/d in both June and in July in response to rising global oil demand and seasonal increases in oil consumption for power generation for some OPEC members. 

Also, the divestiture of fossil fuels seems more symbolic than impactful because of the fact that fossil fuels are used to produce much more than petroleum. 

According to the Ranken Energy Corporations, some of the items made using fossil fuels include bicycle tires, motorcycle helmets, upholstery, vitamin capsules, skis, umbrellas, dashboards, antihistamines, cortisone, life jackets, toilet seats, basketballs, deodorant, pantyhose, fishing rods, trash bags, paintbrushes, sunglasses, toothpaste, and soft contact lenses.

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