City Council discusses fossil fuel investment withdrawal

By Kendra Caruso | Sep 05, 2019
Photo by: Kendra Caruso Belfast Harbor.

Belfast — City Council discussed withdrawing city-held trust investments in fossil fuel-related industries at a recent meeting.

Mayor Samantha Paradis, the initiative's leading proponent when it was discussed previously, expressed her excitement at the Aug. 20 meeting when City Manager Joe Slocum said the bank holding the trusts said it was possible.

“I’m very happy to hear this. This has been an issue that I have wanted to address for some time,” Paradis said. “And if we are … transitioning our energy to solar and to electric vehicles and making that a priority, it only makes sense to put our money where our mouth is and … make sure our investments are no longer in fossil fuels.”

City Councilor Eric Sanders was apprehensive about moving away from what he said were the original reasons for the investment — to make a profit.

“At the time, it was set up solely to make money and I feel that it is not in my wheelhouse as a council member to push for that change,” Sanders said. “I would rather the bank make that decision to do so — if that is the direction they would go to.”

City Councilor Neal Harkness countered Sanders' point by mentioning the growing shift to solar energy investments nationally. He argued that it was more responsible to gradually switch investments from the fossil fuel industry, which he said is declining, to the solar industry, which he said is growing.

“Fossil fuels, we know, categorically are an industry which will be less and less profitable as we move into the future and that there are other options that are better,” Harkness said. “This is an industry that, even if it may be profitable now, is not going to be in 10 years.

“The prudent thing to do would be to move away from an industry that we know is going to decline. So, I actually think if the funds are to make money, I think it works the other way. We ought to be putting our money into growth areas in the economy,” Harkness said. “So, I would like to see a plan — what are we taking it out of and what are we putting it into?”

Sanders responded by using examples of fossil fuel companies that have large investments in renewable energy. He doesn’t want the city to end investments with companies that are investing largely in solar and wind energy just because it is associated with fossil fuels.

“We need to make sure that what we’re changing to is what we want,” Sanders said. “And we may be surprised along the way, by some of the companies that are already doing it — that’s all I’m saying.”

In 2018, Apple had the most solar capacity in the United States, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association’s website.

City Councilor Mary Mortier pumped the brakes by suggesting that councilors cast no vote until they can speak to a representative at the bank and develop a specific plan to change the investments.

“I do not believe we have enough information tonight,” Mortier said. “I think this requires a little time and effort and thought and planning, and a proposal to be in front of us that’s detailed.”

The council will address the initiative at a future meeting.

Climate Change Committee Chairman Jonathan Beal spoke with councilors about using the granite monument at Belfast Harbor’s mouth for a site to hold the committee’s proposed citizen scientist program equipment.

The structure, owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, was built in 1827 as a navigation aid but hasn’t been used since the 1990s, according to Beal.

The Army Corps can issue the committee a permit to use the structure for its citizen scientist program. It would evaluate the final design of the structure holding the instruments to monitor weather and water surges.

“We are early in discussions, but the idea is to have a place for weather and tide/water measurement, for development of long-term data,” Beal said in an email.

The committee was concerned that if the monitoring device were placed at the harbormaster’s office, traffic and buildings might affect results.

“We thought it would be good to investigate the monument as a possible place for placing those instruments because they give a better idea of what’s actually happening on the water,” Beal said. “As opposed to at the harbormaster’s office, which is affected by buildings and the shore.”

Harbormaster Katherine Pickering sought City Council input on where to place high-water marks in two different locations near the harbor.

Councilors agreed that the locations need to be at places where the public can view them. The initiative is to raise awareness of the predicted effect climate change will have on Belfast Harbor, which is a 2- to 11-foot water rise, according to a report released by the Climate Change Committee.

Councilors decided the best placements would be in the vicinity of Main Street along the Harbor Walk, the Rail Trail, either side of the Armistice Bridge, or Heritage Park.

Pickering will take the locations into consideration as the project develops.


Comments (1)
Posted by: Eric Schrader | Sep 05, 2019 07:40

The fossil fuel-related industries are here to stay for the next 100 years unless nuclear fusion or fission has virtually replaced the need for fossil fuels, which is doubtful. The tree huggers have stopped the development of nuclear power plants and even the smaller facilities that could handle smaller populations. Wind and solar are not going to "fuel" industry and our economy. T. Boone Pickens, the great oil tycoon from Oklahoma, got into the wind farm industry and finally realized that it had great limitations and got out. Great idea, putting the City's investment monies into projects like Solyndra, the white elephant of the Obama era. Heck, even Ted Kennedy didn't want a wind farm off of Martha's Vineyard. Fracking has changed the way that energy resources are being developed. Just ask the people of Pennsylvania, home of the first oil well (i.e. Pennzoil) who have reaped tremendous financial benefits from fracking but the lowly New Yorkers can't seem to get with the program because the shale deposits being tapped in Pa. run into NY. Why aren't we looking at geothermal or is that considered "fossil fuel" because heat comes from the inner core of the earth. How about tidal movements? They happen every day.

Sanders, the future Mayor, is right. It's all about maximizing the return on investment for the City and it's residents, not pontificating about some personal views. And the change of the Climate Change Committee name to "Crisis". The only crisis is wasting time on subject matter that you have no control over because the problem with so-called "greenhouse gases" has little to do with the USA and more to do with China, India, Brazil and the entire African continent spewing "stuff" into the atmosphere which doesn't quite stay over their countries. Hey, maybe reading the ridiculous Paris Climate Accords will be a good use of time because they were designed to bring the US economy to its' knees. By the way, the world has never been greener because our friends, the plant life of the world, kinda like CO2 (carbon dioxide for those non chemistry majors) or the stuff that you exhale. The plants make us O2 and help us live.

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