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Mayor Wu to sign Boston fossil fuel divestment ordinance on Monday

The ordinance targets fossil fuel companies, including oil drillers, and those dealing in fossil fuel products.
The ordinance targets fossil fuel companies, including oil drillers, and those dealing in fossil fuel products.Eli Hartman/Associated Press

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said Sunday she will sign a measure intended to divest city funds from the fossil fuel industry — a move praised by local environmental advocates as an important step to combat the climate crisis and spur greater action.

The ordinance, which Wu is expected to approve Monday, will prohibit the use of public investments in any company that derives more than 15 percent of its revenue from fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and natural gas, or fossil fuel products, according to the city. The measure would also be the first Wu signs into law as mayor.

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“It’s a first step; it sends a strong signal about how she’s seeing the climate crisis,” said Mary Cerulli, the founder of Climate Finance Action, in an interview Sunday.

Cerulli said she hopes Boston will inspire other cities and states to pass similar measures.

“Boston, as a finance hub, is looked to for leadership. By signing this ordinance, Mayor Wu signals that she is serious [and] that Boston is serious” about pursuing climate goals, Cerulli said.

Wu, during a public appearance Sunday afternoon at Roxbury’s BCYF Vine Street Community Center, emphasized the importance of addressing the climate crisis.

“I’m excited to be able to take the pen to a piece of legislation that I’ve been working on for many years on the council with community advocates, with colleagues, [to] say that the city of Boston is going to step up and do our part and push for urgency on this issue,” Wu said, according to a recording supplied by her office.

Wu, who took office Nov. 16, had cosponsored the ordinance as a city councilor earlier this year, and it was passed in an unanimous City Council vote Wednesday.

Wu is scheduled to sign the ordinance into law at 11:30 a.m. Monday in City Hall. The signing will be streamed live on boston.gov, according to her office.

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The measure would require Boston’s collector-treasurer to divest city funds out of “stocks, securities, or other obligations of any company” with revenues from fossil fuels, as well as from tobacco products or jail and prison facilities, according to Wu’s office.

The measure does not place similar limits on the city’s pension investments, which are governed by state law.

The city’s treasury department oversees a portfolio of about $2 billion in investments, including $1.3 billion controlled by Boston officials and the rest governed by state regulations.

City Councilor Lydia Edwards has said the ordinance would remove about $65 million in city investments from fossil fuels and sets a 2025 deadline for a full divestment.

The likely approval of Boston’s divestment ordinance comes amid efforts locally and across the country to pull public dollars from fossil fuel holdings.

In June, Maine became the first state to enact a law divesting itself from fossil fuels, according to Bloomberg.

Overseers of New York City’s pension fund announced in January they would pull an estimated $4 billion in investments from fossil fuel companies, the Associated Press reported.

And in September, Harvard University and Boston University also announced divestment efforts.

Last fall, the mayors of a dozen large cities around the world, including London and New York, agreed to take steps to divest themselves of fossil fuel investments.

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Efforts in Boston to curb such investments also come as the state may soon take steps to compel companies to address climate issues.

State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg on Thursday announced draft rules intended to pressure companies to pursue climate goals and slash emissions.

Goldberg’s plan, she said, would be able to leverage the state’s investments to influence companies, rather than withdrawing funds.

And if a company’s plans don’t align with efforts to limit global warming, Goldberg’s proposal would allow the state’s Pension Reserves Investment Management board to vote against the directors at that company during its annual shareholders meeting.

Goldberg has said the proposed rule “puts companies on notice that they’re going to be risking their business models should they not be thinking along these lines.”

Goldberg’s proposal is expected to be voted on by the pension fund’s board in February.

Local environmental advocates characterized Boston’s measure as an important step in pursuing climate goals to limit global warming.

Alan Palm, the interim executive director of the Better Future Project and 350 Massachusetts, said in a statement to the Globe that activists have been pushing for fossil fuel divestment for about a decade.

“We are pleased to see Mayor Wu and the City Council take this step. While the impact financially will not bankrupt the fossil fuel industry, divestment is part of a strategy to deny the social license of an industry [whose] business model is incompatible with any moral claim or practical plan to maintain a habitable planet,” Palm said.

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Clare Kelly, with the Environmental League of Massachusetts Action Fund, also praised Wu’s announcement that she would sign the measure.

“This is a significant step for Boston and fulfills promises she made on the campaign trail. Coupled with the Treasurer’s proposal to leverage state funds to push companies on climate, these actions show that our leaders are serious about using all tools at their disposal to fight the climate crisis,” Kelly said in a statement.

Edwards, a lead sponsor of the legislation alongside council colleagues Matt O’Malley and Wu, said the ordinance shows the mayor is keeping campaign promises. Wu championed a Boston Green New Deal for more than a year before winning the mayor’s race.

“It is the first law she will sign as mayor of Boston, and I can’t think of a better way to start her term,” Edwards said. “She talks the talk and walks the walk, from day one.

“I think we’re going to set a precedent and continue on to make sure we’re a greener city, investing in infrastructure that is green and jobs in the future that are green,” she said.

Edwards said the ordinance will not hurt city finances.

“We had a robust hearing with the treasury department and checked all the numbers to see if this causes any financial instability, and it does not,” she said.

O’Malley said the ordinance is “in some ways a relatively small initiative, but it is one that will have gigantic ramifications.”

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“Fossil fuels and related companies and stocks are not performing well, and sustainable energy is not only green for the environment but it is also green for the taxpayer,” he said in an interview Sunday. “It’s a good bet to put your money on.”

“I hope to see more cities follow our lead, and I’m quite certain we will,” he said.

Milton J. Valencia and Sabrina Shankman of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com. Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.