A Short History of Fossil Fuel Divestment and the City of Portland (and how it became a Socially Responsible Investment issue)

July 19, 2012 Rolling Stone publishes Bill McKibben’s Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, making the case for keeping 80% of fossil fuel reserves in the ground to try to keep the global rise in temperature below 2°C.

November 8, 2012, Bill McKibben speaks in Portland on the second day of his national Do the Math tour launching the fossil fuel divestment campaign.

June 3, 2013 350PDX meets with Commissioner Fritz to discuss fossil fuel divestment. Comm. Fritz agrees to support.

June 5, 2013 Mayor Charlie Hales, speaking on World Environment Day, declares, “I’m proud that our City holds no direct fossil fuel assets in our financial investment portfolio, it’s not enough. The City must urge the Oregon State Treasurer, the Local Government Investment Pool and the Oregon Investment Council to divest of all state holdings in fossil fuel.” He has been misinformed; in June 2013 the City holds one $2M Chevron bond.

July 16, 2013 Mayor Hales meets with Bill McKibben and 350PDX and commits to divest the City from fossil fuel investments.

July 31, 2013 350PDX meets with Emily York of Commissioner Fish’s office and are assured Comm. Fish will support the resolution.

August 8, 2013 350PDX meets with Commissioner Novick who says he will support the resolution if it comes to a vote.

After meeting with 350PDX team, Novick asks his staff what the City’s socially responsible investment policies are and is told it has none.

September 6, 2013 350PDX meets with Commissioner Saltzman who says he will study the issue of fossil fuel divestment.

October 9, 2013, Portland’s City Council passes Comm. Novick’s resolution creating a temporary Socially Responsible Investing Committee. Also adopted at the same meeting is Comm. Novick’s resolution creating the do-not-buy list and placing Walmart on it.

Spring 2014, temporary Socially Responsible Investing Committee holds its first meetings.

August, 6, 2014 The temporary SRI Committee’s report is approved by City Council; It recommends “Council should establish a standing permanent committee of public members with various areas of expertise to recommend eligible issuers for inclusion on, or removal from, a do-not-buy list. The City should contract with an outside data research vendor to provide reports about eligible issuers. These reports should evaluate each eligible issuer based on principles established by the Council. The committee should use these reports to develop its recommendations.”

December 2014, City Council passes the resolution creating the permanent Socially Responsible Investments Committee which is charged with recommending corporate issues for inclusion on, or removal from, the City’s Corporate Securities do-not-buy list.

September 9, 2015 The permanent SRI Committee holds it first meeting. Mayor Hales greets them and informs them the City will be voting on placing the Carbon Underground 200 on the do-not-buy list later in the month without waiting them their recommendations which will not be expected until the end of 2016.

September 24, 2015 Multnomah County adopts a Fossil Fuel Divestment Policy for Multnomah County pledging to not to invest in any debt securities of fossil fuel companies and directs the Chief Financial Officer to ensure that Multnomah County does not directly invest cash assets in the corporate debt securities issued by any fossil fuel companies listed on the Carbon Underground 200. The resolution also says the County will encourage other governments, universities, foundations and other for-profit and non-profit organizations to join them.

Later the same day, the Portland City Council votes to place the Carbon Underground 200 on its do-not-buy list; however, since Mayor Hales committed to fossil fuel divestment in July of 2013, the City has increased its Carbon Underground 200 holdings (in Exxon and Chevron) by $60M.

July 28, 2016 The Metro Council passes a resolution to divest from fossil fuels.

September 30, 2016 The permanent SRI Committee issues its report. They were not asked to discuss or report on the Carbon Underground 200 because, as Comm. Novick acknowledges, the Carbon Underground 200 is different (not an individual company) and the Council itself had placed it on the list. The Council also put Walmart on the list but has asked the Committee to consider it. When questioned, Comm. Novick agrees the Carbon Underground 200 should not be on the list but rather have a permanent divestment resolution similar to those of Multnomah County and Metro. When the Mayor’s office is contacted it agrees, but says its agenda for the rest of the Mayor’s term is full.

December 21, 2016 the Council fails to pass the extension of the do-not-buy list to December 31, 2017. Instead they direct the City Treasurer “to [temporarily] suspend direct investments of cash assets in corporate debt securities” and bring a new investment policy to Council by April 1, 2017.

Written by: Sandy Polishuk