Divesting pensions from fossil fuels finds support

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 24, 2014 at 12:45 pm •  Published: May 24, 2014

BOSTON (AP) — Environmental activists pushing Massachusetts to divest its state pension fund from fossil fuel companies are getting words of encouragement from some of the candidates running for governor.

At least three Democratic candidates are offering full or qualified support for the activists, who have also tried to pressure universities and local governments to pull financial support from the companies in an attempt to raise awareness about climate change.

The activists, including many college students, are holding out hope for a bill that would require the state Pension Reserves Investment Management Board to "sell, redeem, divest or withdraw all publicly-traded securities" in fossil fuel companies.

"In the same way divestment efforts changed the national discussion around tobacco and apartheid, we hope the divestment of fossil fuels will change the national discussion around climate change," said Emily Kirkland, a recent graduate of Brown University and spokeswoman for the Better Future Project.

About $1.3 billion in state pension fund assets were invested in fossil fuels out of a total value of $54 billion as of May 2013, according to supporters of the legislation.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Benjamin Downing, has argued that divestment is inevitable, pointing to the state's ongoing efforts to encourage the development of wind, solar, and other sources of renewable energy.

The Pittsfield Democrat said Massachusetts can take the lead in that effort and become the first state to divest its pension fund. Downing's bill has yet to reach the floor of the Senate or House for a vote. The Legislature's formal session ends July 31.

Some of those seeking the state's highest political office are backing the idea, at least in part.

Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Treasurer Steve Grossman — both Democratic candidates for governor — gave the proposal qualified support.

A spokeswoman for Coakley said she backs divestment from fossil fuels "as long as we can ensure that it does not harm our ability to meet our financial obligations or place a greater burden on taxpayers in Massachusetts."