Press: D.C. councilor seeks divestment from fossil fuels

From Climate Wire:

D.C. councilor seeks divestment from fossil fuels

Benjamin Hulac, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, November 4, 2015

David Grosso, a Washington, D.C., city councilman, introduced legislation yesterday that would force the city’s public pension fund to sell all stock holdings of many of the world’s largest coal, oil and natural gas companies.

“I see no reason why DC Retirement Board should not be required to divest from companies that hold the largest fossil fuel reserves,” Grosso said on Twitter after submitting the bill. “Fossil fuel divestment is just another critical step toward working to alleviate the detrimental effects of climate change in our city.”

The bill, based on a nearly identical bill from 2013, targets shares of the 100 largest public coal companies and the 100 largest public oil and gas companies, ranked by their amount of proven reserves.

The District of Columbia Retirement Board oversaw about $6.3 billion in investments, not including about $1.8 billion in debt investments, at the end of fiscal 2014, for public-sector workers in the city, like firefighters, police officers and teachers. The measure would also affect the District of Columbia’s Annuitant’s Health and Life Insurance Employer Contribution Trust Fund.

A similar bill hit the council floor in 2013 but died in committee after D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson let it expire, said a campaigner with DC Divest, a local advocacy group. The 2013 measure would have affected about 0.1 percent of the fund’s assets — a few million dollars — and this bill would affect a comparable sum.

“Since this legislation was originally introduced in 2013, the fossil fuel divestment movement has reached a fever pitch,” Grosso said in an online post.

Divestment growing in popularity

Analysis from Arabella Advisors, a financial services firm that specializes in philanthropy, found more than 400 institutions and about 2,000 people, collectively representing about $2.6 trillion, have pledged to divest from fossil fuel firms at some point.

Last fall, Arabella found far smaller answers to the same questions: 181 institutions and 656 individuals pledging $50 billion for divestment.

Such totals, however, can be misleading. Many colleges and municipalities have pledged to divest only from certain types of fossil fuels, often coal or oil sands, but hold oil and gas securities. Earlier this year, Oxford University announced it would shun direct coal and oil sands investments. In fact, it didn’t have any.

“Since the last bill was introduced, there’s been an enormous uprising” in divestment action. The bill does not address fossil energy companies contained within broad investment pools, such as mutual or index funds.

Five other council members joined Grosso in introducing the bill, which was referred to the Committee of the Whole — composed of every council member. And another council member, Anita Bonds, co-sponsored the bill, officially the “Fossil Fuel Divestment Act of 2015.” There are 13 council members.

The bill would also direct the pension board to write letters to companies whose stocks the fund may sell, urging them to halt its “fossil fuel-related activities and encourage the company to cease its scrutinized business activities.” After a certain period without a change, the bill reads, the fund may promptly sell fossil fuel holdings in question.

Copyright 2015 E&E Publishing, LLC. This article was reprinted from ClimateWire with Permission of E&E Publishing.

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