February 5, 2016

Burlington Pension Fund Moves Toward Divestment

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Burlington, February 3—The City of Burlington’s Divestment Committee held a public forum on Wednesday to discuss fossil fuel divestment. Local activists, UVM students, and community members voiced their support of the issue. Comments were received favorably by committee chair Selene Colburn and members Ben Rinehart and Kurt Wright.

The city appointed the committee in 2014 to study the feasibility of divesting the Burlington Employee Retirement System (BERS) from fossil fuels and to create a process by which future divestment requests from citizens could be addressed by city officials.

Burlington recently withdrew its pension fund of about $150 million from the Vermont Pension Investment Committee (VPIC) due to high management fees and suboptimal stock performance. The decision was unrelated to VPIC’s unwillingness to consider divestment, Chair Colburn said.

Keeping management fees low is a major priority for the city, and there are currently few low-carbon options that meet these criteria. However, “those hurdles are going to come down” as more organizations divest and demand fossil-free portfolios, said committee member and financial analyst Ben Rinehart.

“We still hear in the media that fossil fuels make money, and we need to counter that,” said Maeve McBride, director of 350 Vermont. She cited a recent study from Corporate Knights, which found that the state of Vermont lost $77 million over the past three years due to investments in fossil fuels.

The committee’s role is “purely advisory” and cannot directly make decisions about divestment, Chair Colburn admitted. However, the committee was confident that the city government would use their proposal to, in the words of Ben Rinehart, “make the right decision in the long-term.”

The committee has its last public meeting at City Hall next week and hopes to present their proposal to the city council in March.

 

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