Fossil fuel divestment campaigns have been making the news as more people have been asking their University endowments, and local governments to remove investments from fossil fuel companies. Excited by announcements by other Oregon cities like Portland and Eugene, and counties such as San Francisco County, 350 Corvallis started a Benton County fossil fuels divestment campaign. A group of us drafted a resolution and sent it to our county commissioners. Like many other cities and counties of similar size, Benton County doesn’t directly handle their investments. Rather the money that they have invested is handled through state agencies such as the Oregon Investment Council and PERS. The resolution we submitted was more or less a statement that the county is in favor of fossil fuels divestment and would encourage these other institutions to divest.
Toward the end of August we got the news that they had signed a resolution. Our original resolution had been modified, and it become a resolution for “Investment in Climate Friendly Energy Companies”. I am happy that Benton County sees the value in moving towards clean energy and I think the resolution is a positive statement. However it is no longer a divestment resolution, as we had hoped it would be. So for now we at least have the county acknowledging that their investment choices matter, and this is a good first step. It’s time now for the Benton County Divest campaign to regroup and decide what the next step should be.
The county resolution mentions Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, and his predecessor Randall Edwards who have both shared a desire to move Oregon’s investments towards clean energy and have taken some actions to make that happen. However making a commitment to divestment doesn’t seem to be something the state is ready to do at this time. In a letter dated June 11, 2013 Wheeler says, “In short, as the world transitions from fossil fuels, investments will transition as well, but a globally diversified portfolio like ours will necessarily hold fossil fuels in the meantime.”
What this all often comes down to is that fossil fuel investments are often very profitable. It’s not always completely clear if divesting from fossil fuels will result in less returns, that depends on several factors and who you ask. However this is really a moral issue. There are things more important than improving returns on investments. As stated at gofossilfree.org, “If it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage.”