SOMERVILLE — The city of Somerville is fighting back against regulatory opposition that blocked it from divesting the city’s pension system from the fossil fuel industry.
At its Feb. 7 meeting, the Somerville Retirement Board approved a home rule petition that would allow it to divest from the fossil fuel industry. In June 2017, the SRB moved $9.2 million in assets, representing 4.5 percent of the system’s total funds, into a fossil fuel free index fund. The move was the first part of a four-part plan to move the retirement system’s assets out of funds that include the top 200 fossil fuel companies.
But the compliance office of the state Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission compelled the board to reverse its decision on a procedural issue and later told the SRB that it couldn’t engage in further attempts to divest from the fossil fuel industry, claiming that the SRB can’t restrict investments from fossil fuels without a state law directing it to do so.
In response, the SRB has drafted a home rule petition that, if ultimately approved by the state Legislature, would establish the board’s authority to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Representative Denise Provost suggested this approach to the SRB at their November 2017 meeting. Fossil Free Somerville supports the SRB as it seeks to make prudent investment decisions that take into account dangerous long-term trends.
“I am thrilled the retirement board is pursing the home rule petition,” said Samantha Akiha, of Fossil Free Somerville. “They are passionately committed to moving ahead on divestment, and I commend them utilizing all possible paths forward.”
Divestment from the fossil fuel industry has been a priority in Somerville for years. Mayor Joseph Curtatone has been calling for divestment since his 2014 inaugural address, and the Board of Aldermen passed a nonbinding resolution in support of divestment that year after Fossil Free Somerville led a successful petition drive.
“Our retirement board’s decision to divest from fossil fuels is not just good policy, it puts them in good company. A growing number of financial entities, colleges and governments — from the City of New York to the nation of Norway and the World Bank — view fossil fuels as both a financial risk and as the wrong choice for our planet,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone. “No city should be forced to sit on the sidelines and watch as climate impacts intensify and their pension funds are exposed to foreseeable risks. Cities must be empowered to take action now.”
The Board of Aldermen is currently reviewing the home rule petition. If it is approved by the board and the mayor, the petition will be submitted to the Legislature. Fossil Free Somerville believes it could provide a framework for other communities to divest their pension funds.
“Despite various setbacks, I am proud of the SRB’s steadfast commitment to do what’s right not only with their fiduciary responsibility but also to combat the threat of climate change with divestment,” said Victoria Gasidlo, of Fossil Free Somerville. “It is my hope that the Board of Aldermen expedites the home rule petition so Somerville can continue to lead and pledge to be carbon neutral.”
Contact: Colby Cunningham – 617-417-1100; email@example.com