Maine Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto That Would Have Prevented Fossil Fuel Divestment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELASE
May 2, 2014
Contact: Read Bugger, read@350Maine.org, 207-382-6477

Augusta — In a rare show of force, the Maine State Legislature overrode Governor LePage’s veto this morning and pushed forward legislation (LD 1806) that will require the state’s pension fund, MainePERS, to set up a taskforce to consider Environmental Social Governance factors when making investments.

The legislation is a key win for fossil fuel divestment activists in the State, who now have a firm footing to move forward proposals that MainePERS ditch their coal, oil and gas industry holdings. Earlier this week, MainePERS primary investment fund, Blackrock, announced that it will have a fossil free fund for institutional investors, removing yet another barrier to divestment.

“This is a big step forward for the divestment campaign in Maine,” said Read Brugger of 350 Maine, one of the groups supporting the state divestment movement. 350 Maine is affiliated with the international climate campaign 350.org, which is helping coordinate the global fossil fuel divestment movement that has now spread to over 500 universities, cities, states and religious institutions in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

“We’ve seen the entire discussion shift over the last three months,” continued Brugger. “When we started this campaign, people told us there was no chance that fossil fuel divestment would move forward. Now, it seems increasingly inevitable. The movement has gone mainstream.”

350 Maine’s Brugger emphasized that there was still a long road ahead for the divestment effort, but that the legislature’s override of LePage’s veto has provided a jolt of energy for activists across the state. The override was one of only 15 successful bill overrides of the 48 considered on Veto Day, the day the legislature reconvenes to reconsider bills vetoed in the two weeks since they adjourned.

In 2013, 350 Maine worked with Representative Brian Jones (Maine House District 45) to introduce LD 1461, “An Act To Require the State To Divest Itself of Funds from Fossil Fuel Companies.” On January 9, 2014, MainePERS held a committee hearing on the proposed legislation and decided to move forward the proposal for establishing a task force for developing environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors to guide the agency’s investment practices. The directive was then included in the government oversight bill LD 1806. The Appropriations Committee decided that while it was split on outright divestment, it could unanimously support the ESG task force and passed the bill. The bill was vetoed by the Governor.

This morning the Senate voted 29-6 to override, with ten Republican senators voting for the measure. The House voted 113-33 in favor of the override. Representative Jones, the original sponsor of the divestment bill called the passage of LD 1806 as a “step in the right direction,” while pledging to continue his work for full fossil fuel divestment.

MainePERS will now begin forming the task force which “shall actively involve stakeholder advisors to provide information relevant to ESG issues, stakeholder interests, and other technical information as required.” The 350 Maine fossil fuel divestment team has been told it will be one of the stakeholders.

Maine has become one of the hotbeds for the growing divestment movement. In November 2012, Unity College in Maine became the first college in the country to divest from fossil fuels. They were soon joined by College of the Atlantic in March of 2013. There are active campaigns also underway at the University of Maine, Bowdoin, Bates, Colby, and University of New England.

The campaign has also spread to religious institutions. In June 2013, the Pittsfield, ME Unitarian Universalist Church became the first church in Maine to divest from fossil fuels. In February 2014, the Maine Council of Churches, which brings together nine member denominations, committed to divest.

“Maine legislators listened to their constituents, who are asking the state to lead,” said Jay Carmona, Divestment Campaign Manager at 350.org. “We look forward to seeing MainePERS continue to move this discussion forward and set an example for the rest of the nation. It’s high time our public institutions stop investing in companies that are putting both our health and financial security at risk with a reckless business model bent on destroying the climate.”

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