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PHOTO BY RICK RAPPAPORT, COURTESY 350PDX - Protesters urge Portland Mayor Charlie Hales to support divestment. Multnomah County and the city of Portland are poised to join the international divestment movement against fossil fuels companies.


The Board of County Commissioners will vote on a divestment resolution Thursday morning, Sept. 24, followed by a City Council vote in the afternoon. The measures would pledge both governments to stop buying interests in 200 of the world’s oil, gas and coal companies with the largest fossil fuel reserves, as demanded by the divestment movement. No Oregon-based companies are on the list.

The movement is designed to stigmatize fossil fuel companies and highlight their role in contributing to climate change, much like the 1980s campaign to divest from South African companies pressured that regime to abandon its racist apartheid system.

“We’re happy this is happening; we’re celebrating it,” says Sandy Polishuk, divestment/reinvestment coordinator for 350PDX, the local chapter of 350.org, an international group at the forefront of the divestment campaign.

Both local governments pledged to divest a few months ago, when they adopted an updated version of their joint Climate Action Plan.

Multnomah County has already stopped buying fossil fuel holdings and has owned none since its Shell Oil corporate bonds matured in March 2014, says John Wasiutynski, director of the county Office of Sustainability. County leaders made a “values-driven decision back in 2013” to refrain from buying more fossil fuel holdings, Wasiutynski says.

“We’re joining with other large institutions around the world to say that we don’t have to have these assets because we’re trying to move to a low-carbon future.”

Portland still owns about $64 million worth of corporate bonds sold by Chevron and Exxon Mobil, Polishuk says. “The thing that is most disappointing to us is that the city added to their investments during the period while this was under consideration,” she says.

In 2013, 350PDX arranged for international divestment campaigner Bill McKibben to meet with Mayor Charlie Hales. Around that time, the city held about $2 million in Chevron corporate bonds, Polishuk says. Since then, the city has purchased an additional $62 million in Exxon Mobil and Chevron corporate bonds, she says.

Those bonds will all mature by 2018, “so the city won’t be fully divested now for two and a half years,” Polishuk says.

350PDX isn't asking anyone to sell off their holdings immediately, but to stop buying them so that they have none within five years.

The city resolution hasn’t been released publicly yet, but the county resolution has fairly strong language. It states that the companies on the Fossil Free Index’s Carbon Underground 200 list hold reserves that “must be left in the ground to avoid devastating climate change.”

The International Energy Agency, the resolution reads, states that “no more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed” in order to avoid significant climate disruption.

350PDX and its allies also are pressing the state to divest its fossil fuel holdings, including the state’s largest pool of money invested on behalf of local, state and school retirees.

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