Maine needs to divest itself of assets invested in the fossil fuel industry

By Rep. Brian Jones, D-Freedom | Jan 30, 2014

Fossil fuels are doing serious damage to our environment. We don’t have to look much further than our local environment and economy to see some of the effects of climate change right now.

Our clam populations are being decimated by invasive green crabs, our shrimp fisheries are closed and our lobster populations are threatened. Warming ocean temperatures and acidification caused by increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide are among the culprits.

Our big game populations are at risk. Our ski areas and snowmobiling businesses are concerned about long-term changes in snowfall, our maple syrup industry is threatened and the composition of our forests is gradually changing. Invasive pests and mosquito-borne diseases are migrating north into Maine.

These are changes we do not want and the state of Maine should not be part of the problem.

That is why I have introduced a bill, LD 1461, An Act to Require the State to Divest Itself of Assets Invested in the Fossil Fuel Industry, to address this issue.

Divestment will provide opportunity for the state to reinvest its money in clean energy and jobs so that we can create a sustainable future for Maine.

Thirty-one of the 35 people who testified on my bill supported it. From teenagers to retired school teachers, many people spoke of the importance of divesting our state of assets invested in the fossil fuel industry.

Among the supporters was Stephanie Leighton, a senior vice president and portfolio manager at Trillium Asset Management, the oldest independent investment advisor devoted exclusively to sustainable and responsible investing.

She stated that Trillium works to “mitigate risk and also improve the sustainability of portfolios by investing in green power generation — solar, wind, biofuels, geothermal — through finding bigger companies that have parts of their business in green/renewable sources of energy.”

If someone were to divest his or her portfolio of fossil fuel investments over a three- to five-year time period, only a minimal additional cost would result.

The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee amended my bill to direct the Maine Public Employees Retirement System to form a task force and set a deadline for developing guidelines on environmental, social and governance factors that will inform the agency’s practices. The deadline for the report would be Dec. 31, 2014. The directive will be included in a pending government oversight bill this legislative session.

While the result was not all that I had hoped for, it is a step in the right direction.

Divestment provides us opportunities to reinvest in clean energy projects.

Let Maine once again be the leader, not by investing in old ways that lead to destruction, but by investing in truly sustainable economic development and prosperity.

Rep. Brian Jones is serving his first term in the Maine Legislature and represents Burnham, Freedom, Knox, Montville, Palermo, Thorndike, Troy and Unity.

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