Less than a decade after Maine’s tiny Unity College kicked off an international effort to cease investments in fossil fuel companies, the effort has grown to encompass more than $14 trillion in endowments and investment portfolios.

State Treasurer Henry Beck

And if some environmentalists have their way, the state of Maine will join the movement soon.

“It’s time for us to align Maine money with Maine values,” Francesca Gundrum, communications manager for Maine Conservation Voters, told legislators in Augusta this week. “We have a responsibility to divest from the industry that’s destroying our future and reinvest into climate solutions for Maine.”

The bill under consideration by the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee would require the state to divest itself of assets invested in the fossil fuel industry, a change that would mostly impact where pension funds are socked away.

“It is wrong to wreck the planet and to profit from the wreckage,” Linda Woods, a retired teacher from Waterville, said.

State Treasurer Henry Beck backs the proposal.

“My office’s support of this legislation is based on the belief that curbing climate change requires, in part, intentional government action, crafted with fiduciary obligations in mind,” he told the committee.

Beck said only about 3% of the state’s investments are in the energy sector now and could be shifted. He asked the panel to set a timeline as part of the bill.

David Gibson of the Sierra Club Maine, though, said his research left him “astonished and dismayed with the quantity of fossil fuel investments” by the state, including state cash put into “every single company on the list of coal power plant owners based in North America.”

Gibson said the money ought to be “reinvested in solar, wind, geothermal and energy efficiency companies,” including some in Maine, which he said would “create the maximum financial returns” while helping the environment.

Jeff McCabe, director of politics and legislation for the Maine Service Employees Association, said the union isn’t taking a position on the measure.

He said it supports the environmentalists’ goals but is concerned the bill might impact the retirement security of thousands of state retirees. He urged legislators to proceed with caution.

But others said there’s no time to waste.

Geologist Jason Langley of Orono said retirement funds are “supposed to invest in the future. But what kind of horrible future will we and our kids inherit by doing nothing?”

The fuel mix producing New England’s electricity on Thursday. ISO New England

Daniel Gibson of Topsham, a science teacher at Mt. Ararat High School, said there is a clear connection between burning fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and rising temperatures around the globe.

“Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere and the increase in global temperature have both been more rapid than in any other time in history,” he said, with changes never coming over such a short period of time.

Divesting, he told legislators, will help encourage more investments in “cleaner sources of energy.”

The American Petroleum Institute readily admits that the use of fossil fuels has contributed to a growing climate crisis.

But it also argues that fossil fuels provide critically needed products, from plastics to fertilizer, that society both needs and wants.

David O’Donnell, the institute’s associate director, told legislators that divestment proponents have two choices – “show their displeasure with an entire industry by selling all of its shares or take the better course of action and remain invested but use their shareholder power to change the situation.”

It said that instead of divestment, the state and others should “work with companies in good faith to reduce their emissions rather than hope that public shaming, punishment and discipline will achieve the same results.”

Mandy Ball of North Yarmouth said the state should put its cash to better use “before the retirement funds lose more money and before the fossil fuel companies do more damage to society and the Earth.”

Doris Luther of Hollis said the fossil fuel sector is doomed as the world shifts to green energy.

“Everyone knows we have to wean ourselves from our addiction to fossil fuel,” she said. “This bill is a good start.”


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