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Maine Law Ends Fossil Fuel Investment in Employee Fund

Maine State House in Augusta. (David Grant/Flickr)

Toby Martin 

When a state’s visionary leadership unites and exhibits bipartisan courage to create a noteworthy and groundbreaking law as Maine’s L. D. 99 has, it deserves recognition.

On January 11, 2021, Maine State Representative O’Neil of Saco and nine others united and co-sponsored the bill, which directs that:

“The Treasurer of State and the Board of Trustees of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System may not invest the assets of any state pension or annuity fund in any stocks or other securities of any corporation or company within the fossil fuel industry or any subsidiary, affiliate or parent of any corporation or company among the 20 largest publicly traded fossil fuel companies, as established by carbon in the companies’ proven oil, gas and coal reserves, to divest any such stocks or other securities whether they are owned directly or held through separate accounts or any commingled funds, (and) divestment must be complete by January 1, 2026,” with annual progress reports presented to the joint standing committee charged with oversight, by January 1, 2023, 2024, and 2025.

The state employees’ retirement fund currently has investment assets of about $17 billion. The fossil fuel industry’s share stands at roughly $1.3 billion, 7.6% of the fund’s value.

As expected, the bill attracted testimony from climate activists and environmental organizations, as well as supporters of the fossil fuel industry.

A month after Representative O’Neil introduced the bill, on the afternoon of February 10, Francesca Gundrum, Communications Manager for Maine Conservation Voters (MCV), presented testimony before the Committee on Labor and Housing at the State House in Augusta.

Gundrum explained that “MCV works to address environmental degradation and the climate crisis in order to create a healthy and safe future for all of us here in Maine and beyond.” And she added that divestment of fossil fuels from Maine’s employee retirement fund is essential to meeting the state’s climate goals, as well as being the right choice for socially equitable reasons. Divestment is supported by the work of national and international organizations and climate activists motivated by concerns for the protection, health and survival of all species everywhere across the globe.

She also drew from her own divestment experiences where, as a Dartmouth undergraduate, she was inspired by her peers to support climate action, where, she said, “I got my start in the climate movement with my college’s fossil fuel divestment campaign, Divest Dartmouth, (where) we organized the largest climate rally in the history of New Hampshire and brought national attention to using fossil fuel divestment as a unique strategy to combat the climate crisis and align our institutions with their values.”

And here she was again on behalf of MCV, in her role as an environmental advocate and professional, testifying before this Maine joint decision-making committee, echoing the important work of youth activists worldwide, and arguing for support that could lead to a recommendation for enacting L. D. 99 and divestiture.

The joint committee voted to recommend, and after votes to pass by the House on June 3 and the Senate on June 8, L.D.99 became law with Governor Jamet Mills’ signature on June 10, the first of its kind in the nation.

State Representative Victoria Doudera, from Camden, represents Maine’s seacoast mid-coast towns of Camden, Islesboro and Rockport. Now in her second term, she has served on two joint committees: first on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, and currently on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Doudera reinforces Gundrum’s testimony:

“The enactment of L. D. 99 signals an important shift in how we in the legislature achieve what I see as our duty to protect the earth.

While climate change should be reason enough to disinvest from holdings in the fossil fuel industry, the actions outlined in L. D. 99, now public law, also make sound business sense. Given that extraction is increasingly costly, and many firms have taken on debt to invest in exploration, most investors believe renewables are better investments than fossil fuels.

The arguments in favor of L. D. 99 were compelling because they coupled concern for the earth with concern for our pocketbooks. Needless to say, this approach has broad bipartisan appeal. Even climate skeptics can be won over if they feel a shift to environmentally-friendly policies makes financial sense. This idea isn’t new, but L. D. 99 (and other policies) demonstrates how successful it can be. Going forward, I believe it will be increasingly important to demonstrate that environmentally-friendly policies all benefit us economically if we are to truly tackle climate change on the scale necessary to really make an impact.”

Clearly, the people of Maine are fortunate to have such people as Francesca Gundrum of MCV and Victoria Doudera in the State House acting on behalf of Maine’s citizens and the planet.

Toby Martin lives in Islesboro, ME, where he works locally and statewide to strengthen Maine’s clean energy sustainability. A founding member of the Islesboro Energy Team and the Islesboro Energy Committee, he also coordinates the Islesboro Energy Conference, and he contributes to Green Energy Timesas a writer and member of its new Maine distribution team.

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