Providence Makes Withdrawal From Fossil Fuels

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — In 2013, the City Council passed a resolution to pull city money from fossil-fuel companies. Last week, Mayor Jorge Elorza made good on the act by withdrawing all money — about $1.4 million — from the top carbon-emitting investments held in the city pension fund.

The so-called “Filthy 15” carbon polluters are dominated by coal and oil companies: American Electric Power, Ameren Corp., Dominion, Duke Energy, Edison International, FirstEnergy Corp., GenOn, MidAmerican Energy, PPL, Southern Co., Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal, ConsolEnergy, Patriot Coal and Peabody Energy.

Of these, the city pension is removing holdings in American Electric Power, Ameren Corp., Dominion, Duke Energy, Edison International, FirstEnergy Corp. and the Southern Co. The environmental advocacy group As You Sow compiled the list.

“The decision to divest from the 15 most egregious carbon polluting coal companies sends a strong message that the city will not support companies that seek to profit from the destruction of the environment,” Elorza said in a prepared statement.

The investments represent less than 0.6 percent of the city’s pension fund. Wainwright Investment Counsel of Boston is the advisor of the pension.

The local environmental advocacy group Fossil Free RI wants the city and other institutions to also consider divestment from natural-gas companies.

“This is a great first step, but we need to recognize that it’s not just coal destroying the climate — it’s the so-called ‘natural’ gas, which may actually be more dangerous for the climate than coal or oil,” said Lisa Petrie, spokeswoman for Fossil Free RI.

In May, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) board of trustees voted unanimously to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies.

Brown University and the University of Rhode Island refused appeals by students and faculty to divest their endowments, saying the process is too complicated and ineffective at creating change.

According to 350.org, a nonprofit that supports environmental activism, 27 of 4,500 U.S. colleges and universities have so far divested from fossil fuels.