Mont­gomery County should di­vest from fos­sil fu­els

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - MIKE TIDWELL TAKOMA PARK

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.

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