Massachusetts may be the First State to Divest

Saturday, June 14, 2014 (Listed under Environment)

My interview with MA State Senator Benjamin B. Downing is the focus of my most recent article on Huffington Post's Green Blog. 

Below are a few of the highlights from our conversation. For more information on Downing's proposal to divest MA's pension fund from fossil fuels, contact the Senator at or 617-772-1625.

"Going through different proposals for the start of this legislative session and talking to my staff and looking at the broader things going on around climate -- what we had done at the state level -- what other states were doing -- what was going on at college campuses and unfortunately wasn't going on in Washington -- our aim was to figure out where we could continue to make progress. We agreed that aligning our state's energy and transportation policies with our investment strategies would be a win-win for stakeholders throughout the state."

"I think that when you look at extreme weather events, when you look at the consensus of the scientific community, and when you look at the realities of climate, the long-term investment risks of fossil fuels become clear. At that moment, you quickly realize that it's harder not to take action. Our Governor [MA Gov. Deval Patrick] is very eloquent in saying that inaction is not only 'not a choice,' but that its costs are only getting higher every minute of every day. So, the sooner the investments we need to make in clean energy, energy efficiency, and energy conservation are in place, the sooner our state will benefit."

"While Exxon Mobil and others are incredibly profitable, experience shows us that they have not been as good of an investment over the last few years as other parts of the market have been. By divesting, we provide an opportunity for our pensioners and retirees to benefit from new innovative businesses that reflect our state's ongoing commitment to promoting long-term, forward-thinking, energy-efficient initiatives."

"I think the significance of the work that folks have done on a grassroots level across the state is that we currently have at least five democratic candidates for Governor in MA and all of them have endorsed divestment -- every last one. The fifth one got on board actually on Earth Day. One of them is the Treasurer right now -- Steve Grossman - and he actually sits on the pension board in our state, so he does have a significant voice and a role to play. And I have to give him credit. When we brought this issue to him, it wasn't something that was on the pension fund's radar."

"One of the points that helps to put this issue into perspective for everyone is that you can take fossil fuels out of the discussion and put in tobacco, you could put in Sudan, and you could put in South Africa, and the arguments are exactly the same. And yet we've been able to divest either from those industries or from those nations and we haven't impacted our investments negatively."

"It's been a really fun process to tell you the truth. One of the most gratifying aspects of this effort has been the grassroots support that's emerged through the state chapter of 350Mass, which has taken it on as a focal point of their efforts to build local support and support from state officials. Just recently, we put together a letter for the MA Public Service Committee, where the bill is right now, asking them to move it out. They have scheduled their vote for June 20th and we are optimistic. In the meantime, I am ready to talk to anyone who's willing to listen!"

To find out more about Senator Downing's pioneering efforts to align Massachusetts's energy and transportation goals with its pension fund investments, contact the Senator by email or phone:    617-772-1625

For more information, visit Sen. Downing on Twitter and Facebook.



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