County board formally stops investments in fossil fuel companies, cites harm to vulnerable

September 25, 2015

Activist show their support of the board's decision to divest in fossil fuel companies.

The Board of County Commissioners adopted a policy on Thursday, Sept. 24, that bars the county from having a financial stake in any of the 200 publicly-traded companies with the largest coal, oil and natural gas reserves in the world.

The policy, already practiced by the county for more than a year, is intended to encourage companies to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable sources of energy.

The burning of fossil fuels degrades air and water quality and is a primary driver of global climate change. The impacts of fossil fuel use falls hardest on the individuals and communities served by Multnomah County. Investments in companies whose value is tied to fossil fuels directly undermines the county’s mission of protecting the most vulnerable citizens and building a healthy and prosperous community for all.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, who testified in support of the move, said the policy reflects responsible capitalism.

Mayor Hales addresses the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners at Thursday's meeting
Mayor Hales addresses the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners at Thursday's meeting.

“Of course we have to invest money. Of course we have to earn a reasonable rate of return for our citizens when that money is invested,” Mayor Hales said. “There’s a way to do that with an eye on stewardship and the long run. That’s what this is about.”

Divesting from fossil fuel companies is a component of the 2015 Climate Action Plan, which establishes a goal of reducing countywide greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

“This past summer was a postcard from the future. We had 29 days with temperatures over 90 degrees, which was a record for Portland. We opened our cooling centers more frequently in response to make sure that seniors and people with preexisting medical conditions could get out of the heat,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury during the board meeting.

Chair Kafoury during a light moment at Thursday's board meeting
Chair Kafoury during a light moment at Thursday's board meeting.

“Climate change is impacting our community today and we have to act now. We are looking for every opportunity that we can to take action.”

The fossil fuel divestment policy will have little impact on the county’s investment portfolio, County Chief Financial Officer Mark Campbell said. Multnomah County stopped investing in fossil fuel companies more than a year ago.

Multnomah County joins more than 400 governments, colleges, foundations and other nonprofit and for-profit organizations worldwide that have committed to divesting from the fossil fuel industry.