Baltimore Mayor Signs Bill Mandating City Pension Funds Divest From Fossil Fuels

Baltimore City Hall. Photo from stock.adobe.com.

At the same time that Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D) signed legislation Monday requiring the city’s three pension funds to divest from the fossil fuel industry, the sponsor of the bill, City Councilmember Mark Conway (D), introduced four new measures designed to fight climate change.

A resolution Conway introduced would adopt a goal of making Baltimore carbon-neutral by 2050. An accompanying bill would require city government to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and set certain reporting requirements.

Baltimore City Councilmember Mark Conway (D).

Another bill would align Baltimore with state goals for moving the municipal vehicle fleet fully to electric vehicles: 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2040. And the last bill would require newly constructed buildings and additions to existing buildings that are owned or funded by the municipal government adhere to new “cool” roofing requirements designed to reduce the heat island effect in the city.

“Climate change is one of the existential issues of our time,” Conway said in a statement. “It threatens our people, our neighborhoods, and our way of life, with the burden falling disproportionately on Black, brown, and poor people. While federal and state governments hold the primary means to take the drastic steps scientists say we must to limit warming, local governments have a duty to step up as well.”

With the pension bill now signed into law, Baltimore’s three employee retirement systems have five years to divest from fossil fuel companies listed on The Carbon Underground 200, an environmental organization that identifies the top 100 coal and the top 100 oil and gas publicly-traded reserve holders globally — ranked by the potential carbon emissions of their reported reserves.

Click here to read more from our Climate Calling series.

The city is now following a trend initiated by other cities across the U.S. New York began divesting its pension funds from dirty energy last fall, and Washington, D.C., took that step in 2016. Los Angeles, New Orleans and Pittsburgh are also moving to divest their pension funds from the fossil fuel industry.

“With the mayor’s signature, Baltimore will have joined a global movement to put our money where our mouth is and part ways with the companies doing irreparable harm to our planet and its people,” the Climate Safe Pension Network, an environmental group, said in a recent statement.

On Thursday, the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Pensions is meeting, and part of the agenda includes a discussion on climate initiatives and potential divestment. The House co-chair of the committee, Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City), is a candidate for state comptroller in 2022 — one of the overseers of the state’s pension funds — and she has said that the government’s investments must reflect the economic and environmental effects of climate change.

“The fossil fuel industry has been one of the worst-performing sectors of the American economy and it is time for all pension funds, including Maryland’s, to stand up and commit its funds elsewhere,” Lierman argues on her campaign website.

Back in Baltimore, Conway notes that the city has so far fallen short of its goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as laid out in a 2019 sustainability plan. His new legislation would task the city’s Office of Sustainability to create a new Sustainability and Environmental Management Program to develop, implement, and track city policies that improve environmental performance. The bill would also lay out three-, five- and 10-year sustainability targets.

“This is the latest, but by no means the last, step in the Baltimore City Council’s efforts to address the climate crisis in every way we can,” said Conway, a former executive director of the Baltimore Tree Trust and current executive vice president for programs at the Chesapeake Conservancy. “No tool in the toolbox should be left untouched as we try to save our planet.”

[email protected]

To see more stories from our “Climate Calling” project, click here.

Josh Kurtz
Founding Editor Josh Kurtz is a veteran chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He was an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, for eight years, and for eight years was the editor of E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill. For 6 1/2 years Kurtz wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz regularly gives speeches and appears on TV and radio shows to discuss Maryland politics.