OPINION: Protect our climate and our money

Stop Oregon State Treasury from making risky fossil fuel investments

By Julia Weinand | February 3, 2023 10:00am

Photo courtesy of Julia Weinand.

Despite Oregon’s goal to completely decarbonize by 2040, our Treasury continues to invest in fossil fuel companies that are wrecking our environment and destroying our future. It is critical that Salem listens to the voices of students, teachers and youth leaders and supports the Treasury Investment & Climate Protection Act (House Bill 2601) in 2023.

Following my graduation last spring, I have been doing a year of service with  Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest where I was placed at Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO). EMO is a faith-based organization focused on furthering social justice initiatives within the state. In addition to direct programs that provide aid for vulnerable communities, such as the Northeast Emergency Food Pantry and SOAR Immigration Legal Services, EMO also has a Public Policy team where I serve as the Environmental Justice Policy Advocate.

In this role, I am serving to promote measures and bills to forward our state’s response to the climate crisis and in support of those impacted by it. Namely, I have been serving in partnership with Divest Oregon, the coalition who made the Treasury Investment & Climate Protection Act possible.

If passed through legislature, this act would require the Oregon State Treasury to stop investing in fossil fuel companies.

As an environmental science major, self-proclaimed tree hugger and proud Pacific Northwesterner, it shocked me to learn that the Oregon State Treasury still invests in large fossil fuel companies.

Oregon’s efforts to decarbonize, alongside other states and countries, are already shifting money toward clean energy and away from fossil fuel companies’ risky business. It is not just our climate that I am considering when I say our Treasury must phase out fossil fuel investments, it is also the financially responsible thing to do.

Divest Oregon’s “Risky Business” report shows that the Treasury could have saved $4-10 billion if they had invested in fossil-free indexes over the past decade.

The Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund, which our Treasury manages, should not be caught up in a sector without a future. 

As college students at UP, you may be considering staying in Oregon after graduation. There is even a chance you will become a public employee, whether as a teacher for Portland Public Schools, engineer for Oregon Department of Transportation or nurse under the Oregon Health Authority. It is highly likely this legislation could impact your future retirement fund.

In October, Treasurer Read released a “plan for a plan” to decarbonize the Treasury’s portfolio, but it is too little too late. For one, his plan would not prevent the Treasury from making new carbon-intensive investments and would have us continue investing in fossil fuels through 2050. The Treasury Investment & Climate Protection Act lays out a plan for a financially smooth transition to carbon-free investments by 2035.

The Treasury Investment & Climate Protection Act is a necessary tool that will guide the Oregon State Treasury on a financially responsible path toward a fossil-free future.

The Oregon State Treasury needs to put its money where its mouth is — toward a renewable future. Support the Divest Oregon coalition and its efforts to enact the Treasury Investment & Climate Protection Act (House Bill 2601) and encourage your state representatives to stand in support.

Julia Weinand is an alumna of the University of Portland class of 2022. She can be reached at jweinand@emoregon.org.