City of Portland Will Divest all Corporate Securities & Consider a Public Bank

April 13, 2017

By Ted Gleichman

In a local political shocker, the Portland City Council, deeply divided, has voted to divest all corporate securities from its investment portfolio.  A majority also said they will consider creating a public bank.  This surprise turn to a decade of arguments over corporate behavior and city investments came at the end of a four-hour public hearing April 5.Raging Grannies singing testimony to Portland City Council

 Raging Grannies sing their testimony to Portland City Council. Credit: Ted Gleichman

The city commissioners had wrestled for years with ruling on which companies should or should not be able to use cash owned by the people of Portland.  In the end, they voted 3-2, over strong opposition from new mayor Ted Wheeler, to eliminate all corporate securities from the city’s portfolio, which approaches some $2 billion.  Currently, $539 million of that is invested in corporate bonds and commercial paper.   These funds will be moved into non-corporate investments (generally, government bonds) as each specific corporate security reaches its maturity date or can be redeemed early for greater profit.

Long term, the most important piece of the dramatic meeting may turn out be an informal commitment by a majority of the commissioners to consider creating a city-owned bank, as the vehicle to manage the city’s portfolio.  If that happens, the City of Portland would join the State of North Dakota as owners of the only public banks in the U.S.

The April 5 decision came through the approval of the city’s 2017 investment policy, a document required annually under Oregon law.  In past years, up to 35% of city funds could be invested in top-quality corporate securities, with current specific exclusions on a “Do-Not-Buy List” as a result of earlier battles: Walmart, and the Carbon Underground 200 list of the largest publicly-owned fossil fuels companies globally, 100 coal and 100 oil and gas, all ranked by the size of their proven reserves – a “keep it in the ground” tool.

Fracking Rig-BLM-wind_river-small format

Fracking on public land in Wyoming.
Credit: Pinedale BLM Field Office, Wikimedia  Commons public domain

In 2013, as divestment battles from many perspectives heated up, the city council created the Temporary Socially Responsible Investing Committee (SRI) to advise them.  In 2014, they recreated it without the “Temporary” label.  The new SRI committee, in a remarkable document, recommended in September 2016 that as many as ten companies should be kept on or added to the Do-Not-Buy List.  The proposed additions were Wells Fargo, Caterpillar, Nestle, Amazon, and five other global banks.  After a difficult hearing in December, the then-council imposed a four-month moratorium on any new purchases and directed City Treasurer Jennifer Cooperman to come up with a new policy for 2017, taking everything into account.

The treasurer’s proposed policy essentially ignored the SRI recommendations, and about 150 activists showed up on April 5; 40 testified.  No one supported the treasurer’s recommendations; the corporations singled out most often in the testimony as “the worst of the worst” were Caterpillar and Wells Fargo.  Oregon Sierra Club added its voice to the process; Beyond Gas & Oil Team chair Gregory Monahan and I called for a commitment to SRI and transparency, based on the critical importance of environmental justice in Sierra Club.

Then Commissioner Dan Saltzman, the longest-serving member of the city council, startled the room by proposing an amendment prohibiting any new corporate investments.  Commissioner Saltzman said he was deeply frustrated about the amount of time these debates took away from other work every year, and wanted them over.

Treasurer Cooperman said that decision would cost the city from $3-$5 million a year in lost profits.  That was a key factor in opposition to the amendment by Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Amanda Fritz.  The mayor also made a strong statement opposing divestment on principle, with a lot of detail about his six years as state treasurer.  Nonetheless, the Saltzman amendment passed with support from Commissioners Nick Fish and the newly-elected Chloe Eudaly.  The council then unanimously approved the revised policy, putting the city in compliance with the state requirement.

Most of the activists in the room were shocked; none of the leaders of the environmental and faith organizations present had predicted this.  One local divestment leader told me that she didn’t see it as a win, “because now we can’t call out the worst corporations by name.”  Others (including me) felt that a general policy against corporate investing sends a strong positive message on our city’s priorities.

Mayor Wheeler and Commissioners Fish and Eudaly all responded positively to testimony advocating for a public bank, and it’s clear that idea is going get more attention.  Commissioner Eudaly said she and her staff are preparing a report evaluating the options.

The new divestment policy is not a fire sale; corporate securities will leave the portfolio when the treasurer deems the time is right, not overnight.  On the current schedule, the final piece of Portland’s corporate portfolio is a $10 million Wells Fargo security that will pay the city 2.15% profit when it comes due in December 2019.

Dakota_Access_Pipe_Line,_Central_Iowa

Dakota Access Pipeline in Iowa. Credit: Carl Wycoff, Creative Commons 2.0

Currently, Wells Fargo – a key financier of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines – is Portland’s top corporate issuer, with almost $78 million in holdings.

Ted Gleichman serves as policy advisor with the Chapter’s Beyond Gas & Oil Team


Update on the Campaign to Block the Proposed Kalama Methanol Refinery

April 12, 2017

Kalama_kids.jpgIf built, this project would increase fracked gas use by 30% in WA State, entail building new gas pipelines emit over a million tons of new climate pollution per year, drain five million gallons of water per day from the Columbia and Kalama River aquifers, store 72 million gallons of flammable, toxic methanol on soil with moderate to high risk of liquefying in an earthquake.

Want to find out more and get involved? Come to this informational forum!

Event Name: Explained: Climate Impacts From the Worlds’ Largest Methanol Refinery

Event Description: A presentation by Sightline Institute’s Tarika Powell on climate, fracking, and the world’s largest natural gas-to-methanol refinery proposed in the nearby town of Kalama, Washington. Click here for event agenda. More details about the event are available here.

When: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 7:00-8:30 pm

Where: Central Lutheran Church sanctuary 1820 NE 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97212

On April 29th, we will hold a People’s Climate Boat Parade on the Columbia River, pulling media attention to this project. This will be preceded by a rally and followed by a comprehensive activist training.

One Page Flier for the April 29th Activities

The Cowlitz Canoe Family will be preforming an action at this rally. They invite all canoe families to participate in this event to protest the proposed development of dirty fossil fuel development in Southwest Washington including a proposed project that would build the WORLD’s largest methanol gas refinery in Kalama, WA. they are calling on all indigenous people and allies to act in solidarity with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe in opposing these projects.

Fishing boat parade on the Columbia River. Participate from shore at the Port of Kalama marina or sign up to join with your fishing boat!

Saturday, April 29, 2017  10:30 – 11:30 am

Port of Kalama

Attend workshops about effective involvement in your community’s campaign against the coal, oil, and methanol terminals.

Saturday, April 29, 2017  Lunch: noon – 1 pm;  Workshops: 1 – 4 pm

Kalama Community Center

RSVP:Email Landownersandcitizens@gmail.com and RSVP to attend. Be sure to include the following information:

o Your name and phone number

o If you can bring a fishing boat

o If you plan to attend Part One, Part Two or both

o If you need a ride from Vancouver or Longview

o Tell us if you would like to volunteer before April 29th to help make this event a success!


Update: Six weeks into the 2017 Oregon Legislative session

March 22, 2017

By Rhett Lawrence, Conservation Director

As predicted in last month’s legislative preview, it’s been a challenging session in the 2017 Oregon Legislature. After several sessions with some real environmental accomplishments (but also partisan divisiveness), we knew we would have a hard slog in making much progress in 2017. So things have gone pretty much as expected so far, and here are some updates on a few of the issues we’re working on.

For the past several sessions, we have been a part of a coalition working to try to put a price on carbon in Oregon. We have gone through various iterations of “cap and trade” and “cap and delegate” bills and have had some good hearings and debates in the legislature. This year the Oregon Chapter’s top legislative priority has been to pass a “Clean Energy Jobs bill.” Right now, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the House Energy and Environment Committee are jointly looking at what might be the best solution for Oregon to create clean energy jobs and hold polluters accountable. The primary contenders so far are Senate Bill 557 and Senate Bill 748, and the committees are holding weekly workgroup meetings to investigate the policies reflected in those bills. You can help move them forward by contacting your legislator and tell them it’s time to act on greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon.

Another climate policy we’ve been spending some time on is an idea called the “Climate Test.” In essence, it is a scaled-down version of a State Environmental Policy Act that would apply to fossil fuel infrastructure projects in Oregon. Like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it would require cross-agency communications to consider the impacts of proposed fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Such proposed projects would also be subject to an environmental impact statement (EIS) with full lifecycle accounting of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions, coupled with an economic analysis that will show whether a project is viable in a world where climate goals are met. We have bills in both chambers – House Bill 3343 and Senate Bill 1007 – and we hope to be having a hearing on them in early April.

Our other top priority, along with the Clean Energy Jobs bill, will be to pass legislation that can help to solve the ongoing conundrum with the Elliott State Forest. As many of you know, the Elliott has been the subject of much debate recently, as the State Land Board tries to dispose of it in order to satisfy its obligations to the Common School Fund. Senate Bill 847 – a Trust Lands Transfer bill similar to what we worked on in the 2015 session – could be a part of that solution. That bill had its first hearing on March 20 and we are hopeful that it will move forward.

We are also working on a package of bills to address the critical issue of oil trains in our state. House Bill 2131 will help to improve safety and cleanup standards for the trains that are coming through Oregon. House Bill 3344 will make it more difficult to site oil train terminals here. Both bills had their initial public hearings in mid-March and we are awaiting further action on them soon.

A bill to limit the impacts of suction dredge mining on our state’s waters is making progress in the legislature. Senate Bill 3 is moving through the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee now and we are confident that it will have real benefits to salmon habitat in Oregon.

Another bill of interest is House Bill 2711, which would impose a 10-year moratorium on oil and gas fracking in Oregon. There is currently no fracking happening in Oregon and we’d like to keep it that way, so we’re pushing to move that bill forward in the House Energy and Environment committee.

Finally, on proactive legislation, we are supporting Senate Bill 1008, which will create more stringent standards for diesel emissions in Oregon. The bill had a public hearing in early March and we are monitoring its progress closely. In addition to getting dirty diesel out of our air, it will also pave the way for Oregon to receive $68 million in Volkswagen settlement money to fund clean air work in our state.

One bright note from the session is that we have had to play less defense and fight off fewer bad bills than we often have to do. There have been attempts to roll back public lands protections and to take aim at wolves and cougars. But for the most part, the same dynamic that is keeping some “controversial” bills that we like from getting much traction is also keeping the bad bills at bay!

So, as expected, the 2017 session has had both hazards and opportunities, and we’re trying to make the best of the latter while avoiding the former to the extent we can. As always, our success depends largely on you, so keep calling, writing, and e-mailing your legislators and making a difference for Oregon!


Update on the Campaign to Block the Proposed Kalama Methanol Refinery

March 21, 2017

Kalama_kids.jpg

Cowlitz County has approved a permit for the world’s largest gas-to-methanol refinery in Kalama, WA on the Columbia River, thirty-seven miles from Portland. The Department of Ecology has an opportunity to overturn this permit, and stop the project. A Chinese government corporation, Northwest Innovation Works LLC, plans to exploit inexpensive fracked gas and water prices to make methanol for plastic production.

If built, this project would increase fracked gas use by 30% in WA State, entail building new gas pipelines emit over a million tons of new climate pollution per year, drain five million gallons of water per day from the Columbia and Kalama River aquifers, store 72 million gallons of flammable, toxic methanol on soil with moderate to high risk of liquefying in an earthquake.

Please sign this petitionasking the Department of Ecology to do the right thing!

Want to find out more and get involved? Come to this informational forum!

Event Name: Explained: Climate Impacts From the Worlds’ Largest Methanol Refinery

Event Description: A presentation by Sightline Institute’s Tarika Powell on climate, fracking, and the world’s largest natural gas-to-methanol refinery proposed in the nearby town of Kalama, Washington. Click here for event agenda. More details about the event are available here.

When: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 7:00-8:30 pm

Where: Central Lutheran Church sanctuary 1820 NE 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97212

On April 29th, we will hold a People’s Climate Boat Parade on the Columbia River, pulling media attention to this project. This will be preceded by a rally and followed by a comprehensive activist training.

Fishing boat parade on the Columbia River. Participate from shore at the Port of Kalama marina or sign up to join with your fishing boat!
Saturday, April 29, 2017  10:30 – 11:30 am
Port of Kalama
Attend workshops about effective involvement in your community’s campaign against the coal, oil, and methanol terminals.
Saturday, April 29, 2017  Lunch: noon – 1 pm;  Workshops: 1 – 4 pm
Kalama Community Center
RSVP:Email Landownersandcitizens@gmail.com and RSVP to attend. Be sure to include the following information:
o Your name and phone number
o If you can bring a fishing boat
o If you plan to attend Part One, Part Two or both
o If you need a ride from Vancouver or Longview
o Tell us if you would like to volunteer before April 29th to help make this event a success!


Getting ready for the 2017 session of the Oregon Legislature

January 25, 2017

state capitolIn some ways, it feels like we just recessed from the 2016 legislative session, in which we had several real victories, like passing the historic Clean Electricity Coal Transition bill. But we’re already headed back to Salem next week for the 2017 session, which is going to be a tough one on many fronts (see this Oregonian article for some perspective). Nevertheless, we are hopeful for some good outcomes and here are a few of the issues we’ll be working on.

For the past several sessions, we have been a part of a coalition working to try to put a price on carbon in Oregon. We have gone through various iterations of “cap and trade” and “cap and delegate” bills and have had some good hearings and debates in the legislature. This year the Oregon Chapter’s top legislative priority will be to pass a “Clean Energy Jobs bill.” Legislators have put a lot of solutions forward so far, but for us to back a specific bill, it needs to meet our principles of an enforceable limit on emissions, a price on pollution, and equitable reinvestment in our communities. We’re working with legislators now to come up with the best solution for Oregon to create Clean Energy Jobs and hold polluters accountable. It is long past time to act on greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon; stay tuned for more details on this legislation and how you can help pass it.

Another climate bill we’ll be spending some time on is an idea called the “Climate Test.” In essence, it is a scaled-down version of a State Environmental Policy Act that would apply to fossil fuel infrastructure projects in Oregon. Like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it would require cross-agency communications to consider the impacts of proposed fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Such proposed projects would also be subject to an environmental impact statement (EIS) with full lifecycle accounting of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions, coupled with an economic analysis that will show whether a project is viable in a world where climate goals are met.

Our other top priority, along with the Clean Energy Jobs bill, will be to pass legislation that can help to solve the ongoing conundrum with the Elliott State Forest. As many of you will know, the Elliott has been the subject of much debate recently, as the State Land Board tries to dispose of it in order to satisfy its obligations to the Common School Fund. It’s not entirely clear just yet what form that legislation will take in the 2017 session. A Trust Lands Transfer bill similar to what we worked on in the 2015 session could be a part of that solution. But it’s clear we will need to think even bigger than that if we want to truly solve the Elliott problem.

events_legislature_in_session

Other proactive legislation we will be working on is a package of bills to address the critical issue of oil trains in our state; we need to both improve safety and cleanup standards for the trains that are coming through Oregon, and make it more difficult to site oil trains terminals here. We will also be working on a bill to limit the impacts of suction dredge mining on our state’s waters. There will also be a very large discussion in the 2017 session about finding a transportation package for the state, which has the potential to suck all the air out of the proverbial room, but which we’ll track and engage on as appropriate. Finally, we will play a supportive role on efforts to create more stringent standards for diesel emissions in Oregon.

Of course, we will be playing defense and fighting off bad bills at every turn as well. There will be the inevitable attempts to roll back public lands protections or hand some lands over to counties or private entities. There will be terrible wildlife bills to contend with, and indeed there are already bills out there again to lift the ban on hunting cougars with dogs. And the gigantic budget hole the state is facing will complicate everything in ways we can’t even imagine.

In short, the 2017 session will be fraught with both hazards and opportunities, and we hope to make the best of the latter while avoiding the former to the extent we can. As always, our success will depend largely on you, so stay tuned to find out how you can plug in to make a difference for Oregon.


New Report Highlights 10 Wildlife Conservation Priorities for the Trump Administration

December 21, 2016

Among list of imperiled species are Wild Snake River spring/summer Chinook salmon, threatened by four lower Snake River dams, climate change

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The report, “removing the Walls to Recovery: Top 10 Species Priorities for a New Administration <http://removingthewallstorecovery.org/> ,” highlights some of the most significant threats to vanishing wildlife such as wild salmon, jaguars and elephants, and identifies important actions the next administration could take to stop their decline and begin to rebuild these populations.

The report includes the imperiled wild Snake River spring/summer Chinook, threatened by four aging and outdated dams on the lower Snake River.

“We nominated Snake River chinook for this report because with climate change, these four money-losing dams become deadlier each summer, when reservoir water temperatures become lethally hot, causing fish kills” said Save Our Wild Salmon Inland Northwest Director Sam Mace.  “But if we free the Snake River of these dams, wild salmon will once again access thousands of miles of pristine, high-elevation habitat that can provide an ark for salmon in a warming world.”

Snake River Chinook salmon, are among the longest and highest-migrating salmon on the planet – often swimming 1,000 miles upstream and climbing more than 6,000 feet in elevation to reach their spawning grounds. More than 130 other species depend upon salmon, including orcas, bears and eagles.

“Since Northwest rivers began to flow, a population of orcas known as the Southern Residents have relied on Columbia basin salmon to sustain them.  Spring chinook that spawn in the Snake River basin are especially critical for survival of this unique and now endangered orca community.  Unfortunately, the lower Snake River dams have decimated this critical food source.  The impact these dams have on this precious, but dwindling, population of orcas, must be addressed.” said Howard Garrett, Board President of Orca Network.

Some of the species in the report, such as the Joshua tree and Elkhorn coral are foundational species, which play a critical role as building blocks for their ecosystems, but are threatened by global climate change.

Other critically important species in the report are keystone species, such as Hawaii’s yellow-faced bee, the jaguar, and the Snake River salmon. All keystone species have a disproportionately large impact on other species and ecosystems, relative to their abundance. For instance, Hawaii’s yellow-faced bee is a pollinator impacted by habitat loss.

The jaguar of the southwest United States is a keystone predator. It is particularly threatened by habitat fragmentation caused, in part, due to impenetrable immigration barriers along the U.S. – Mexican border. The report urges Mr. Trump to abandon plans to further fortify the southern border, and to make existing barriers more wildlife-friendly.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to list the greater sage grouse—an umbrella species—as endangered in 2014, citing an unprecedented region-wide habitat conservation effort, tied to state and federal conservation plans. However, several appropriations riders offered in Congress in 2016 would block implementation of these conservation plans, as well as any future Endangered Species Act protections for the imperiled bird. Meanwhile, grouse numbers have declined by 90 percent from historic levels. Protecting umbrella species like sage grouse conserves habitats on which many other species rely.

“Our native fish, plants and wildlife are critically valuable and part of the legacy we leave for future generations of Americans,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “We hope the next administration takes seriously its responsibility to protect endangered species and habitat. The fate of species is in their hands. Their actions could dictate whether species such as the vaquita, the red wolf, and others, become extinct in the wild.”

The remaining species featured in the Endangered Species Coalition’s report include the African elephant, Bald cypress tree, the wolf, and thevaquita – a small endangered Mexican porpoise.

Endangered Species Coalition member groups nominated wildlife species for the report. A committee of distinguished scientists reviewed the nominations, and decided which species should be included in the final report. The full report, along with links to photos and additional species information can be viewed and downloaded <http://removingthewallstorecovery.org/> from the website, http://removingthewallstorecovery.org<http://removingthewallstorecovery.org> .

The Endangered Species Coalition produces a “Top 10” report annually, focusing on a different theme each year. Previous years’ reports<http://www.endangered.org/campaigns/annual-top-ten-report> are also available on the Coalition’s website.

This report is a re-post from Sam Mace, Inland NW Director, Save Our Wild Salmon sam@wildsalmon.org


Tell State Lawmakers: Cancel the Elliot State Forest Sale

December 6, 2016

By Mike Allen

In one week the State Land Board will vote on whether to sell the oldest state forest in Oregon. The Elliott State Forest near Coos bay is home to several threatened or endangered species including Coho salmon, Pacific lamprey, spotted owl, and the vanishing marbeled murrelet. The murrelet nests high in large trees, and its decline is associated with old forest logging.

The State of Oregon has been frittering away the Elliott for years, selling pieces of it off to timber interests who have gone on to cut off public access and log some massive old trees. Just ten years ago it was 10,000 acres larger. Last year the Land Board decided to put the remaining 83,000 acres up for sale. The asking price of $220.8 million drew exactly one bid.

marbled-murrelet

The Terms of the Elliott Sale Shortchange Oregonian’s Future

Although the deal requires that the purchaser set aside 25% of the land for conservation, it does not specify which part of the land must be set aside. Nearly half of the Elliott is forest nearly 150 years old, with many older trees mixed in. Older trees, which are more economically valuable, could be harvested and younger stands allowed to age.

Only 50% of the land is required to be kept open to the public, and access could involve fees and other restrictions.

The harvest would only be required to produce forty new jobs over the next ten years.

Oregon Could do Better with the Elliott

Meanwhile, if no further harvests were to occur in the Elliott, it would be capable of storing about two thirds of the total carbon output of the state of Oregon, according to a 2010 analysis by ecotrust. This is just one of the many benefits with indirect but real economic impact that isn’t fully appreciated by the state’s analysis.

The Elliott is rugged terrain, with limited access. It has no trails and no official campgrounds. But for the intrepid and adventurous it holds big rewards: massive old growth trees, pristine creeks teaming with fish, deer and elk and the rarest of Western Oregon species. This is our last chance: if the Elliott is sold we will never get it back, and it will never be the same. Call Governor Brown, Secretary Atkins, and Treasurer Wheeler and tell them to save the save the Elliot, a priceless resource for all Oregonians.

Take Action to Save the Elliot State Forest:

Gov. Kate Brown – (503) 378-4582
Ted Wheeler – (503) 378-4329
Jeanne Atkins – (503) 986-1523

The Sierra Club Oregon Chapter will participate in a rally at the Keizer Civic Center at 9 am on December 13th to let lawmakers know how Oregonians feel about losing their wilderness heritage to private interests.  Details HERE!

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