ROCKVILLE – Environmental activists pushed the County Council Tuesday to pass a bill to divest the County’s pension fund from fossil fuel companies while union representatives and others opposed it.
Proponents of the bill said the County’s investment in fossil fuel companies as part of its workers’ pensions is immoral because of the threat of man-made climate change.
“Imagine telling your kids one day, we really wanted to stave off climate calamity, but the routine transaction fees of selling and reinvesting in greener companies were too much to bare, so we just kept on investing in climate calamity,” said Mike Tidwell, from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, who testified in favor of the bill.
“The fossil fuel industry is not just a bad actor, it is in a class by itself,” said Silver Spring resident Ellen Post.
“It is an industry that is knowingly threatening the viability of human civilization on this earth for its own short term profits. Climate change is an existential threat with the potential to destroy whole cities.”
Union representatives and members of boards of trustee who have a fiduciary responsibility to their members spoke out against the bill.
“Bill 44-16 will not have the desired effect and will have re-open potential negative impacts to both the retirement plan and healthcare trust structure and funding,” said Rob Klein from the Montgomery County Retired Employees Association. “Divestment offers symbolic rather than genuine results.”
Those in favor of divestment from fossil fuels cite the County record of divestment, while those opposed expressed concern about a slippery slope of public policy.
“Purity of moral principle would dictate that we never invest in Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola and their sugar-laden drinks or Volkswagen that played fast and loose with emission reporting or Wells Fargo that willfully cheated its customers,” said Joan Fidler of the Montgomery County Taxpayer League. “Where will it end?”
Bill 44-16, sponsored by Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) and Council members Nancy Navarro (D-4) and Marc Elrich (D-At large), would require the County Board of Investment Trustees and the Consolidated Retiree Health Benefits Trust Board of Trustees divest from in oil, gas and coal companies.
The bill also has language saying the Board of Investment Trustees does not have to divest from fossil fuel companies if divestment is not “consistent with the fiduciary responsibilities of the Board.”
“We put this forth because we felt we could achieve both, that is you could honor the fiduciary duty and do what ought to be done,” Berliner.
Bill 44-16 would also not divest the County retirement fund from any index, private equity, real estate, mutual funds or any other type of joint or passive funds.
When Berliner introduced the bill on Oct. 25, he said it was “hypocritical” for the County, given the County’s attempt to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
Council member George Leventhal (D-At large), who was not in attendance at Tuesday night’s hearing, previously said the County should focus on the environmental impact to the County’s bus fleet.
The council has twice voted to divest the County’s pension fund from fossil fuels: once in 1986, when the Council voted to divest from South Africa during Apartheid, and again in 2008, from Sudan during the government’s atrocities in Darfur.