Maine lawmakers have passed landmark legislation that would bar the state from investing pension and annuity assets in fossil fuels, fueling hope among environmental activists that the divestment movement will take hold in more state houses and city halls across the country.
The bill makes Maine the first state in the country to pass legislation committing to fossil fuel divestment, though states such as New York and Minnesota have made similar moves. Some steps toward divestment are up for debate in Massachusetts as well.
The Maine measure directs state officials not to invest in any company in the oil, gas, or coal industries, with some short-term exceptions, and to divest any existing fossil fuel holdings. It was passed by the Maine Senate on Tuesday and the House on Wednesday, according to the state Legislature’s website, and still requires the signature of Democratic Governor Janet Mills.
Environmentalists hailed the bill, which comes as many communities and universities divest funds from fossil fuels, as a signal that the movement is gaining momentum across the nation.
“Maine legislators deserve enormous praise for this visionary and deeply responsible piece of legislation. Massachusetts should follow suit,” said Deb Pasternak, Sierra Club’s Massachusetts director. “Pension funds, which are fundamentally about the long-term, should divest from the greatest threat posed to our collective future. Let’s hope this inspires more action here in Massachusetts, in New England, and across the entire country.”
David Gibson, a representative for of Sierra Club Maine, said the legislation “is groundbreaking and will be heard across the nation.
“Maine is responsibly acting to address climate risk in its pension by divesting from fossil fuels,” Gibson said in a statement from Stand.earth. “With the freed up funds, the pension fund can invest in climate solutions, doing double duty of earning profits for the fund while safeguarding our future.”
Bill McKibben, co-founder of the environmental group 350.org, said in the statement that “divesting sends a truly powerful message, and to have Augusta join in adds real weight.
“This action is a gift to the planet — and also to the pensioners of the Pine Tree State, freeing them from the money-losing investments in gas and oil that are also undercutting the landscape into which they will someday retire,” McKibben said.