Press Release: New Divest Oregon Campaign Pushes State Treasury to Lead on Climate

Salem, OR, September 16 – Following a summer of record-shattering heat and extreme fires across Oregon, a statewide coalition is urging the Oregon Treasury to divest from risky fossil fuels and support a financially-sound, clean energy future.

Press Contact: Andrew Bogrand, Communications Director (abogrand@divestoregon.org)

A growing coalition of thirty-five organizations in Oregon representing workers, environmentalists, public sector employees, and people of faith launched the Divest Oregon: Reinvest in a Fossil-Free Future campaign urging the Oregon Treasury to end all new investments in the fossil fuel industry, disclose current fossil fuel holdings, and phase out all current investments by 2026. 

“This summer, local governments received a stark reminder–if it was needed–of the deadly impact of the climate crisis,” said Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal. “Divesting from fossil fuels sets Oregon on the path to envision new investments that promote our economy, environment, and public health; and follows in the footsteps of Oregon counties and municipalities that have already divested including Multnomah County and the City of Portland. We must divest Oregon from fossil fuels now. Our state, economy, and livelihoods depend on it.”

New research suggests that institutional investors like the Oregon Treasury could force meaningful cuts in emissions by reallocating capital away from companies that drill for oil and gas and mine coal. The Oregon Treasury remains invested in fossil fuels despite multiple risks that could hurt returns for public sector employees, imperiling their retirements. Most of the Treasury’s holdings are in the $90 billion Oregon Public Employee Retirement Fund (PERS), which the Treasury manages.

Almost one in ten Oregonians are exposed to fossil fuel risks through pensions managed by the Oregon Treasury. BlackRock–the world’s largest asset manager–has highlighted these risks and the fundamental reallocation of capital that is rapidly transforming energy investments: fossil-free funds are outperforming conventional ones

“Of course I am worried about the climate crisis, but I am also worried about my PERS retirement outlook,” said Patty Hine, a retired community college professor and commander in the US Navy from Eugene. “I don’t need to work on Wall Street to know that the fossil-fuel sector has a limited lifespan. When it comes to my money, I want Oregon to make prudent, long-term financial decisions that support the environment and all children’s futures. Divesting from risky fossil fuels and reinvesting in promising, clean energy opportunities would be a great start.”

Always volatile, coal and oil markets have become riskier as environmental regulations tighten worldwide, including in China, the U.S., and the European Union. More than 80 percent of all new electricity capacity added last year was renewable, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, demonstrating the world’s preference for clean fuels over dirty ones. Exxon shares have dropped by more than 25% in three years, and the company was removed from the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

“The physical impacts of climate change on the value of investments together with the changes implied by the energy transition that is already underway present a major risk for beneficiaries of public pensions, including in Oregon,” said Christopher Abbruzzese, Chief Investment Officer for Rain Capital Management in Portland. “Pensions control more than $35 trillion in assets globally and some of the largest have already begun divesting from fossil fuels, so it’s not hard to see how this process could have systemic implications. Add to that the fact that traditional approaches to valuation and risk management are largely based on historical data, making them really bad at dealing with seismic shifts like this. You have to ask yourself if the State of Oregon has the visibility to be prudently invested in fossil fuels right now. Look at it this way: in 1847, with the advent of petroleum, the fiduciary would have had an obligation to reconsider the wisdom of investing in whalers and harpoons. If this is our 1847 moment with decarbonization, Oregon needs to get ahead of it.”

Dozens of large institutions are already going fossil free, including the University of California, with a $126 billion portfolio, and the State of New York, with a $226 billion portfolio. Last week, Harvard University also said it has divested almost all of its $42 billion endowment from fossil fuels. In the last decade, the fossil fuel divestment movement has grown to encompass more than 1,100 government, corporate, educational, non-profit, and faith institutions with $11 trillion in assets under management.

“There is a climate imperative for Oregon to divest from fossil fuels, and anyone who’s smelled the smoke in the air these last summers knows about that. But there is also a compelling financial reason for Oregonians to support this campaign, too,” said 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben. “Simply put: fossil fuels are a bad investment. The energy transition is here. Major and mainstream asset managers recognize this and are looking to reinvest in sustainable energy solutions that better reflect the needs of our local economies and communities on the frontlines of this climate crisis. Oregonians need a pension to retire on, but they need a working planet to retire on too!”