Montgomery County should divest from fossil fuels
Ihave lived in Montgomery County for 28 years. I love the libraries, the parks and the progressive and diverse population. My son attended the county’s excellent schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.
But here’s what I don’t love: In an era of rapid global warming, part of my county tax dollars goes directly to buying stock in megapolluting companies such as ExxonMobil, Arch Coal and BP. The Montgomery County Council allows this to happen to help underwrite the county’s pension fund for workers. The result? More than $65 million of county tax funds now finance dozens of companies that contribute enormously to sea-level rise, bigger storms and a full range of other terrifying climate impacts. So while the county school system has prepared my son for a positive future, my tax dollars help pay ExxonMobil to destroy that very same future by baking the planet.
Now, with a president who has called climate-change a hoax, it’s more important than ever for localities to move our nation toward rational climate policies. That is why activist Bill McKibben and the group 350.org have launched a movement to get colleges, governments and other institutions to divest from fossil fuel companies. Legislation is before the Montgomery County Council to do just that.
Council members Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), Nancy Navarro (D-Mid-County) and Marc Elrich (D-At Large) introduced Bill 44-16, which would require the county pension fund to sell direct holdings in fossil fuel companies. That’s about $65 million in a portfolio of more than $4 billion, so it would have almost no impact on the overall health of the fund. In fact, with average prices for dirty energy falling in recent years, this divestment will almost certainly help the pension fund.
Unfortunately, some council members and the editorial board at The Post object. They say it is ethically fine to use tax dollars to invest in companies that profit from global warming. They add, What’s next — divest from CocaCola since sodas contribute to diabetes? It’s a silly question, of course. Global warming is an existential threat to our society, and ExxonMobil is not a soda company. The fossil fuel industry is knowingly pushing the world toward climate catastrophe for its own short-term profits.
Critics also claim that the small brokerage fees incurred for selling dirty-energy stocks would be a burden to the county. Really? Imagine telling your kids, “We wanted to help stave off climate calamity, but the routine transaction costs of selling and reinvesting in greener companies was just too much to bear, so we kept investing in climate calamity.”
I’m proud that Montgomery County already leads the nation in many programs to fight climate change. We invest heavily in energy-efficiency measures and in wind power for county buildings. But now it’s time to put our pension investment dollars where our mouth is. If apartheid still existed in South Africa, would we invest there? No. Would we knowingly invest in companies today that profit from child labor or human trafficking? Of course not. And now the act of investing directly in mountaintop removal for coal has grown similarly controversial. The act of profiting from hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, for planet-warming oil and gas has reached a special level of moral offense. It’s time to stop. Period.
Bill 44-16 would end these direct investments. I love this county — and I will love it even more when its investment patterns align better with the deep environmental values of its voters.
The writer is executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.