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COURTESY 350PDX - Protesters at Portland City Hall during global divestment day on Feb 13, 2015.The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted Thursday morning to bar county investments in fossil fuels, hours before the Portland City Council agreed to put 200 major coal, oil and gas companies on the city’s Do Not Buy list.


The coordinated actions put both local governments on record in support of the international fossil fuel divestment movement.

“The era of fossil fuels is ending, and we are backing up those words with actions,” said County Chair Deborah Kafoury, speaking in solidarity with the City Council as it took up its motion.

Mayor Charlie Hales, noting that Pope Francis had earlier in the day called for “responsible capitalism,” said climate scientists argue that close to 80 percent of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must go untapped if the world is to avoid severe climate disruption.

That’s a “radical notion,” Hales said, but “it’s a radical truth that we have to learn to deal with.”

Both city and county actions target companies on the Fossil Free Index’s Carbon Underground 200, a list of the world’s coal, oil and gas companies holding the largest reserves.

Sandy Polishuk, divestment/reinvestment coordinator for 350PDX, which has been at the forefront of the divestment campaign, praised the city’s move but said it fell short.

“We’ve been waiting for a vote” every since Hales pledged to support divestment two years ago, she said, “so thank you.”

During the intervening two years, the city bought an additional $61 million in Exxon Mobil and Chevron corporate bonds, on top of $2 million held at the time, Polishuk said. As a result, she noted, the city won’t actually be divested now until 2018, when those bonds mature.

And she noted that the city’s Do Not Buy list is being updated yearly, to the divestment move must be revisited each year. 350PDX, the local chapter of 350.org, an international group at the forefront of the divestment campaign, would prefer that the city approve a straight divestment policy like the county did, Polishuk said.

But Bill McKibben, the author, professor and activist who helped found 350.org, praised the city’s action and Portland in live video testimony. After calling Portland “the most beautiful city in the country,” McKibben explained that the purpose of the fossil fuel divestment movement is to “break the power” of the fossil fuel industry. Big oil, coal and gas companies continue to thwart major policy changes needed to avert dramatic climate change, he said, such as taxing carbon emissions.

The city of Portland and Multnomah County, McKibben said, will now join the likes of Stanford University, CalPERS, the Anglican Church and hundreds of other universities, churches, pension funds and luminaries who have joined the divestment movement.

Commissioner Steve Novick has championed the city’s Do Not Buy list, and worked to get Walmart added to that list. He has appointed an advisory committee charged with recommending companies to put on the list, but that committee won’t get to any recommendations until 2016.

That’s not soon enough for 350PDX and others pushing the city, but Novick heartily endorsed Thursday’s action.

“The city doesn’t have to be in the business of making money off of fossil fuel companies,” Novick said.

City Treasurer Jennifer Cooperman resisted the idea of selling off the city’s $63 million in Exxon Mobil and Chevron bonds before they mature, saying the city relies on regular earnings from the bonds to make payroll and other expenditures. The city practices a “buy and hold” strategy with its investments, Cooperman said, and to sell them earlier would be “disruptive.”

She said state requirements that the city only buy highly rated corporate bonds narrows the field to only 40 to 50 issuers.

And her report to the City Council detailed how the oil company bonds are performing better than regular U.S. Treasury securities. The city’s $28.4 million in Exxon Mobil bonds are paying roughly .4 percent more than U.S. Treasury securities, she reported, and its $35 million in Chevron bonds are paying .47 percent more.

The divestment issue could become a campaign issue in Hales’ tough re-election campaign against Oregon Treasurer and former Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler.

Polishuk said “the most important task remains” to convince the state treasurer and Oregon Investment Council to divest local government money invested on behalf of the Public Employees Retirement System and the Local Government Investment Pool. Investments on behalf of PERS are by far the biggest government investments in Oregon.

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