St. Pete will consider pulling fossil fuel investments from pension funds

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TECO CO2 emissions / climate change
TECO's Big Bend power plant spews carbon dioxide and other emissions. By Seán Kinane (Jan. 2010).

St. Petersburg will end all bond investments in fossil fuel companies within two years and now City Council is considering whether to pull its investments in carbon polluting industries from its much larger pension funds as well. That effort is being led by Council member Karl Nurse.

“Well, the city has a billion dollars in pension funds, all of which is in the stock market, a reasonable chunk of which is in fossil fuels. What I’ve proposed is we establish a policy to divest ourselves from the fossil fuels. And it’s really two issues. One is: 20 percent of people in St. Pete live in the flood zone. So we are very at risk of any kind of sea level rise. And then the other is the fossil fuel industry is becoming increasingly erratic and with great waves in values and so the risk as an investment is also bad. But I confess the motivation is that we should – our investments should reflect our values. And investing in energy that we know is disruptive does not make any sense.”

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On January 7 City Council unanimously referred the question to committee.

Mayor Rick Kriseman initiated the policy of not investing in bonds from the oil and gas companies that contribute most to carbon pollution and climate change, but he says he can’t say yet whether applying that divestment policy to the city’s pension assets is a good idea.

“You know, I’m not sure if I’m supportive of when it comes to the pension funds. Because there’s a pension fund group that manages it. I get a little bit uncomfortable about whether it’s council or my office interfering with how they manage pension funds. I also think it potentially exposes us to some litigation. So I need to get a whole lot more information to tell me that there wouldn’t be any problems in going forward and doing that and we wouldn’t be creating a bad precedent in doing that.”

But Council member Nurse says divestment can be justified legally.

“I’m confident that the state law says that we need to recognize risk in investment policies. And I think it’s very clear that fossil fuels are a much larger risk than the general stock market. So I think if you look at that criteria and then the risk that rising sea level presents to our community I think the risk factor is so large that it would overcome any angst.”

Nurse says it will next go to the budget, finance and taxation committee and he urges citizens to contact the city council. Even though fellow Council member Ed Montanari is likely to oppose it, Nurse says he thinks there’s a “better than even chance of getting this through.”

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