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Youth hold Earth flag

Ryan O'Hare, left, and Connor Dobson both of South Portland High School, hold a flag of the Earth as they participated in a global strike on the lack of action on climate change Friday, March 15, 2019. The students gathered outside City Hall in Portland among other places. (Photo: Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

'A Gift to the Planet': Maine Lawmakers Pass Landmark Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill

"This is groundbreaking and will be heard across the nation."

Andrea Germanos

Climate action advocate Bill McKibben welcomed a development he called "a gift to the planet" after Maine state lawmakers on Tuesday passed a groundbreaking bill committing the state to divesting its assets from the fossil fuel industry.

LD 99—"An Act to Require the State to Divest Itself of Assets Invested in the Fossil Fuel Industry"—cleared the state Senate Tuesday in a 19-13 vote. It passed the House last week over the objections of Republicans like state Rep. Michael Lemelin (R-88), who asserted that lowering carbon emissions will kill trees.

The legislation calls on the state treasury and state retirement system not to make any further investments in the fossil fuel industry and sets a 2026 deadline for fossil fuel divestment.

Advocacy groups backing the effort say it's the first time a state is committing to divestment through legislation.

The lead sponsor is Democratic Rep. Maggie O’Neil of Saco, who wrote on social media after the Tuesday vote that the measure "will protect retirees and our future. Next step is enactment."

While the bill still needs to go through procedural steps, environmental advocacy groups backing the legislation foresee no hurdles to it becoming law, noting support from the state treasury and unlikely veto from Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. If successful, proponents say, other states should follow suit.

McKibben, a noted author on the climate emergency and co-founder of 350.org, pointed to local impacts of a warming planet as he celebrated the importance of the state's effort.

"As the Gulf of Maine keeps heating, so does the pressure on the fossil fuel industry: divesting sends a truly powerful message, and to have Augusta join in adds real weight," he said in a statement.

"This action is a gift to the planet," McKibben added, "and also to the pensioners of the Pine Tree State, freeing them from the money-losing investments in gas and oil that are also undercutting the landscape into which they will someday retire."

David Gibson with Sierra Club Maine also welcomed the vote, calling it a "groundbreaking" effort that "will be heard across the nation."

Maine's action along with efforts in other other states including Colorado and New York show a swelling movement for fossil fuel divestment. Climate activists say there's simply no time to wait and are urging other states to follow in Maine's steps.

"If Maine can divest responsibly and thoughtfully, there are no more excuses for any other pension fund and legislature in the U.S.," Richard Brooks, climate finance director with Stand.earth, the group coordinating the national Climate Safe Pensions Network, said in a statement.

"It is past time for every other public pension to address the mounting climate risk in their portfolios by holding onto fossil fuel investments," said Brooks.

"These are a ticking time bomb," he added, "and fiduciaries must act."


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