Park commissioners pass oil divestment resolution

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is expected to call on state leaders to divest from oil companies and sell state investments in the fossil fuel industry within five years.

The board’s Legislative & Intergovernmental Committee unanimously passed a resolution April 4 that, if approved by the full board, would be signed and delivered to the Minnesota State Board of Investment, a four-member body led by Gov. Mark Dayton that manages the state’s retirement funds, trust funds and cash accounts.

The resolution follows several similar divestment campaigns, including a plan announced in January to move New York’s $189 billion in pension funds away from fossil fuel companies in five years.

East Side Commissioner Chris Meyer, who authored the resolution and chairs the committee, said global climate change has become an “urgent crisis,” with recent years bringing the hottest temperatures in recorded history.

“We need to do what we can and I believe we can make this happen,” he told fellow commissioners.

The full board is expected to pass the resolution on April 18. Meyer said he plans to have commissioners sign the resolution and deliver it to the governor’s office.

“A lot of resolutions don’t have teeth to them. This is a way you put teeth to them,” he said, “If we bring it to his office, then he’ll hear us.”

The Minnesota State Board of Investment consists of Dayton, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, Secretary of State Steve Simon and Attorney General Lori Swanson. As of the end of last year, it controlled more than $93 billion in assets, including the city’s public employee pensions. It’s unclear how much is currently invested in fossil fuel companies.

The resolution describes climate change as a “serious threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the people of Minneapolis” and spells out several goals of the wider divestment movement, including one to keep an increase to the planet’s average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, or about 3.6 Fahrenheit. Many scientists, environmentalists and world leaders point to that number as a threshold for avoiding global disaster.

Council Member Cam Gordon of Ward 2 spoke in favor of the resolution and said the City Council should revisit this topic. Gordon co-authored a resolution in 2015 that banned the city from investing in fossil fuel companies. Minneapolis is prohibited by law from investing in individual companies.

“There is actually a lot of city money and public money that’s going into the funds at the state, and some of that money is definitely being invested in fossil fuel industries,” he told commissioners.

Dan Engelhart, a senior business agent with the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees and a steward of Office and Professionals Employees International Union’s Local 12, told commissioners that divesting is right for young pensioners looking to collect decades down the road.

“We look at how the investments are looking and fossil fuels are clearly no longer a sound investment,” he said during a public hearing.

President Brad Bourn (District 6) said the resolution evoked the board’s values as the “greening leader” of Minneapolis.

“A lot of times the Park Board stays in its lane and we don’t look at the influence that we do have with other influencers and other decision-making bodies in the state,” he said.