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


Investing in the Future: The Healthy Climate Bill and the Coal Transition Plan

February 4, 2016

2167696800_4dedae718d_oWhen I was a kid, teachers always gave us the same piece of environmental advice: reduce, reuse, recycle. The emphasis was always on what we could do as individuals. We could pick up litter. We could recycle cans and bottles. We could donate our old clothes. If everyone did these small things, they would add up and make a difference in the world. Reduce, reuse, and recycle, and everything would be okay.

It took me until college to question this. In fact, it was in one of my very first college classes—intro to environmental studies—that my professor brought it up. I can still remember what he said: our lifestyle decisions as consumers are important, but they also distract from larger issues. What we need is not just for individuals to change, but for the entire infrastructure of our society to change. We need movements, protests, political change. And I remember him saying something about how there was “no free lunch”, how even just sitting in that lecture hall we were taking part in the dirty energy economy, what with the lights and the heating system, and if we went to the library, or the city hall, or anywhere in town, really, we would come upon the same problem, because it wasn’t just us—it was the way things were set up.

I always thought that part was particularly unfair. coalThis isn’t our mess. None of us in that lecture, none of us who went on to graduate in 2015, are responsible for the way things have been set up. We’re the inheritors of greed and chaos. I mean, look at what they’ve left us: heartbreaking mass extinctions, an ocean full of plastic garbage, an economy dependent on polluting fossil fuels that threaten the existence of all life.

But I also saw this beautiful possibility—this vision of change, of the sustainable society we could create. This isn’t our mess, but we can be the ones to fix it.

I’m not the only one with such a vision, of course. The quest for positive change is one of the main tenets of the Sierra Club. They’ve long been champions of clean energy, environmental justice, and conservation. In a way, they’re the embodiment of that big change, that infrastructural shift that my professor was talking about. I’m honored to be interning with them, especially at this moment of climactic urgency. With the hottest year on record behind us, and all this evidence of widespread droughts, reduced snow-packs, and crazy weather events—well, climate change is progressing right before our eyes. We have a small window here in which we can prohibit catastrophic warming.

Now is the time to make those big changes, and the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club is taking action. During the 2016 legislative session, the Sierra Club is promoting two bills that work together to revitalize Oregon’s energy system.

windmillsThe Healthy Climate Bill, Senate Bill 1574, proposes a “cap and invest” system. This means that polluting industries would actually pay the true price for the environmental havoc they impose upon us, and for their disastrous contributions to climate change. The money would then be invested in the clean energy sector. We’d have reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and a proliferation of local, well-paying clean energy jobs. Not only that, but investments would be targeted towards those who, today, are most threatened by environmental injustices—low-income and rural communities, as well as communities of color.

The other bill—the Oregon Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan (House Bill 4036—also seeks to reduce emissions, but does so in partnership with PGE and Pacific Power, Oregon’s two largest utilities. Under this bill’s provisions, Oregon’s Renewable Portfolio Standard would double to 50% by 2040. Though Oregon’s last coal-fired power plant will close in 2020, PGE and Pacific Power still source much of their electricity from coal-fired plants in other states, such as Montana. This plan would make them completely coal free by 2035 and enable them to transition to renewable energy projects, like community solar programs that prioritize low-income communities. New infrastructure would be created to encourage green transportation, such as charging stations for electric cars, thereby lessening our dependence on gas and oil. I mean, imagine that: driving an electric car powered by 100% solar or wind power. Or going into almost any building in the state and knowing it’s powered mostly by clean energy.

These two bills complement each solar farm. 1st pictures. September 2012 30192Dother in that they have varying timelines and methods to achieve a shared vision. This is way more than reduce-reuse-recycle. This is the big stuff; the big changes that need to happen if we want a better future. These bills make clean energy more affordable than dirty energy. They lift disadvantaged communities into positions of climate leadership. They create new jobs for local community members. And, of course, they reduce carbon emissions. Oregon could serve as a model of justice and sustainability. We could provide the rest of the country—and even the world—with the glimpse of a promising future. These bills work because they address our issues at the source. They not only fix old problems but they lead us on to better things, to a cleaner, healthier, healed future, in which the next generation can look back, smile, and say, look at what they’ve left us.

Take action today by contacting your legislators in support of these bills!

 

 

 

 


Stand up for Oregon. No Pipelines. No LNG. Call-in Days of Action! Wednesday August 12th and August 26th (All Day)

August 7, 2015

People from all over the state are standing up to two proposed fracked gas export terminal and pipeline proposals in Oregon and we need you to join us!No LNG Logo

Last week, The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a draft environmental review for the Oregon LNG terminal and pipeline near Astoria Oregon. The Environmental Impact Statement for Oregon LNG didn’t address the impacts to public health and safety, endangered salmon, or the economy. With FERC also planning to issue their Final Impact Statement for Jordan Cove here in Southern Oregon on September 30th, we need our state officials to stand up for Oregon NOW!

Salem LNG Rally-May 26 2015

On Wednesday, August 12th or August 26th please join us for statewide call-in days to flood the offices of  Gov. Brown and our U.S. Senators Merkley and Wyden asking them to stand up for Oregon! Please take 10 minutes on August 12th or August 26th to call and ask Gov. Brown officials to deny key state permits for these projects and prepare to defend Oregon’s interests in court if FERC approves these projects! We also are looking to our federal senators to stand up for Oregon’s right to deny LNG terminals.

Find all the details, phone numbers and talking points for the call-in by clicking here: Call in Day Instructions and Talking Points. It also important that we keep track of how many calls we are making and the impact they have. After you make your calls please take a moment to fill out the tracking form HERE to record the results of your call.

Please spread the word!

______________________________________________________________________________ Support Hike the Pipe! (August 22- September 27)

This summer, a group of Oregonians will hike through 232 miles of beautiful and scenic southwestern Oregon to protest the Jordan Cove pipeline and export terminal. Hike the Pipe is a community action that will draw attention to the communities and ecosystems threatened by the Pacific Connector Pipeline. We need community support to make this project happen! Please learn more about Hike the Pipe by watching the video below and donate to the project today!


Applaud the Clean Power Plan: Release

August 3, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
August 3, 2015
Contact:  Andy Maggi (503) 238-0442 x301

Oregon Sierra Club Statement on Release of the Clean Power Plan

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The EPA and the Obama Administration released the final version of the landmark Clean Power Plan. The plan will give States the opportunity to craft their own plan to reduce carbon emissions based on their existing energy portfolio.

As the U.S. moves towards cleaner energy with the Clean Power Plan, Oregon can continue to lead on clean energy and climate change by pursuing  Coal to Clean legislation and supporting a ban on coal exports.

In response, Sierra Club Oregon Chapter Executive Director Andy Maggi released the following statement:

“The Clean Power Plan is the most significant single action any President has ever taken to tackle the most serious threat to the health of our families: the climate crisis.

“Today marks the end of an era for dirty power plants that have spewed dangerous pollution into our air without limits for too long.  It signifies a new era of growth for affordable and safe clean energy sources that don’t fuel climate disruption and sicken our communities.  Today is a victory for every American who wants clean air to breathe, and for the millions of activists and concerned citizens who organized to make sure this day would finally come.

“As we celebrate this national milestone, here in Oregon we see more opportunities for our state to regain its position as a nationwide climate leader. State lawmakers  recently adjourned after failing to pass key Coal to Clean legislation, which would have reduced our reliance on dirty, out-of-state coal plants, as well as other environmental bills. Combined with  tightening bans on coal exports coming through Oregon and state carbon pricing, this legislation would have been a step forward for Oregon  towards cleaner energy and a more sustainable future. We hope the Clean Power Plan will give our leaders the confidence to continue reducing our use of coal and develop the renewable energy that Oregonians want.”


Tell FERC “No” to both Palomar Pipeline Alternative Routes!

July 6, 2009

Though the legislative session has just closed down for the year, the fight against LNG terminals and associated pipelines is still in full swing! The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has opened a Supplemental Scoping Period to gain public feedback on two alternate end routes for the Palomar Pipeline.

As it stands, the pipeline would extend from the Bradwood Landing LNG Terminal site on the Columbia River, through the Willamette Valley, and across Mt. Hood National Forest, crossing hundreds of waterways in its path.  The two “alternative routes” do not provide any further protections to Mt. Hood National Forest, and would impact still more waterways in Oregon.  The Maupin Bridge alternative puts the pipeline directly through the City of Maupin, while the Warm Springs alternative routes the pipeline through Warm Springs Reservation, including large areas of Crooked River National Grassland.

The introduction of two new alternative routes for the pipeline so close to the initial deadline for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) raises concerns that FERC will not adequately address the environmental impacts of the pipeline on the areas that the newly-introduced routes pass through.  Just within the new alternatives, the problems of human health and safety, soil disruption in fragile scablands areas, threatened species’ habitat destruction, and conflicts with pre-existing land management plans, are all raised.

The good news is, you can do something about it. Submit a comment to FERC today using their online form, and make your concerns about the Palomar Pipeline heard.  Comments are due July 13th, so please take action as soon as possible.

Below are sample comments, which you should feel free to copy and paste wholesale – consistency is the name of the game when submitting comments on Environmental Impact Statements.

Thanks for taking action, and stay tuned for further action points and events – we’re planning outings to the proposed terminal and pipeline sites at Bradwood Landing and in Mt. Hood National Forest in the coming months, and hope to see you there!

Filing Instructions:
https://ferconline.ferc.gov/QuickComment.aspx
Clicking on the above link will bring you to the FERC “Quick Comment” page; you will need to enter your name and email address, FERC will send you an email very quickly, and you will need to click on the link within that email to continue the filing process.  Enter the docket number in the appropriate field, click “Search,” and then “Select” for Docket Number CP09-35-000.

Click here to learn more about the Sierra Club’s efforts to stop reckless LNG terminals and pipelines.


Sample Comments:  Feel free to cut & paste any or all of these comments!

Docket Number: CP09-35-000

I am writing today as a concerned citizen to submit comments to the Supplemental Scoping Period for the Palomar Gas Transmission (Docket No. CP09-035-000).  I see significant problems with the Palomar Pipeline’s proposed routes, and cannot condone the construction of a pipeline with such massive environmental and public safety impacts.  These so-called “alternatives” are just two different ends the same bad story of needless degradation to the environment and to Oregonians’ quality of life.

The Maupin Bridge alternative route attempts to avoid crossing of the Deschutes River in a designated “wild and scenic” area.  However, it’s shocking that the “alternative” route is right through the center of the city of Maupin.  Maupin residents are concerned about how the pipeline would affect their quality of life – from the standpoints of safety, effects on tourism and recreation, and property values.  And the second alternative – the Warm Springs route – presents devastating effects on Crooked River National Grassland.  The pipeline would disrupt fragile scablands soil composition and threaten already-vulnerable species’ habitats in ways that cannot easily be restored.  Furthermore, the Northern Warm Springs Alternative Route would place the Palomar pipeline outside of a designated utility corridor.  This conflicts directly with the priorities and policies outlined in the Crooked River National Grassland Land Management Plan, which requires that all utility lines be within preexisting utility corridors.

In summary, neither of the two proposed alternatives truly mitigates the harm that the Palomar Gas Transmission pipeline would cause.  This eastern section of the pipeline is still proposed to go through Mt. Hood National Forest, which is unacceptable to the people who rely on the National Forest for recreation; furthermore, both “alternatives” raise serious questions about the safety of the people and ecosystems that the pipeline would pass by and through.  It is my hope that FERC will be able to adequately address these concerns in the DEIS.

Sincerely,
[Your Name]