Belfast calls on state retirement system to dump fossil fuel holdings
Belfast — A request from residents asking city officials to sign a resolution to encourage the Maine Public Employees Retirement System (MainePERS) to remove investments in fossil fuel companies from its portfolio was met with mixed reactions.
Members of 350 Waldo County approached the council about signing the resolution during a March 4 meeting. During that meeting, councilors asked for more time to research the issue before making a final decision.
On Tuesday, March 18, the council was split on supporting the resolution with Councilors Roger Lee and Eric Sanders in favor of the measure, while councilors Mike Hurley, Nancy Hamilton and Mary Mortier voiced concerns on the issue.
Hurley said he spoke with one of the members of the group who approached the council, David Smith, and explained to Smith that he “wasn't wild” about the resolution. He continued by stating he felt the resolution was more of a “feel-good” measure than an actual solution to encouraging people to consume fewer fossil fuels.
He pointed out that many of the people attending Wednesday night's meeting most likely drove to City Hall by themselves as opposed to carpooling, and that many residents rely on oil to heat their homes. For that reason, he said it would be hypocritical to support it.
Hamilton also voiced opposition to the measure, citing a concern that the resolution would violate the MainePERS board of trustees legal and moral obligation to grow its assets. She also read from two letters written by the presidents of Harvard and Brown Universities explaining why they rejected a request to divest of any fossil fuel company holdings.
Finally, Hamilton noted that local efforts such as building window inserts to increase energy efficiency in homes has a greater impact.
Monroe resident Karen Marysdaughter responded to Hamilton and Hurley's comments, stating changes need to be made in regards to fossil fuel consumption and that divestment would send a powerful message to those companies.
According to a press release from Marysdaughter, Belfast would be the first city in Maine to consider a resolution calling for Maine PERS to divest of fossil fuel holdings.
As discussion continued, Sanders voiced his support for the resolution, while also stating he wanted to see other ideas that extend beyond buying or not buying certain stocks. Mortier said she researched the issue and wanted to wait for the results of a state-sponsored study into the legality of divestment before making a decision.
Lee, who said he supported the overall intent of the resolution, said if it is illegal for MainePERS to divest its fossil fuel holdings then it would not do so. He also commented that he was not surprised that Harvard and Brown decided not to divest.
“It's a tough issue,” he said. “I think we have to speak up.”
Lee then motioned to adopt the resolution with some minor changes. Before voting, however, Hurley said he would be more comfortable signing a letter drafted by the city manager.
Lee's motion failed by a vote of 2-3 with Hurley, Hamilton and Mortier opposed. Hurley then motioned to send a letter written by the city manager to MainePERS. That motion passed by a vote of 3-2 with Hamilton and Sanders and Hamilton opposed.
In other business
Councilors approved a second reading of proposed changes to the waterfront mixed use zoning district in regards to allowing additional seating at restaurants without requiring more parking spaces.
A request from the Belfast Police Chief to appoint James A. Bergdoll as a reserve police officer and Alex S. Bryant as the parking enforcement officer was approved.
City officials also approved the hiring of R.J.D. Appraisal services to act as the city's assessor for 2014 and to provide additional compensation to the assistant assessor. The assistant assessor will receive $100 per day retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014, until May 12, 2014, after which they will receive $60 per day until July 1, 2014.
Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.
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