February 15th, 2017

Dear Mayor Murray, Councilmember Burgess and SCERS Board of Administration:

We are writing to request that the City of Seattle’s pension fund fully divest from fossil fuels. Over 600 institutions across the globe representing more than $5.2 trillion in assets have committed to some level of fossil fuel divestment. We hope you will agree that it is time for the City of Seattle’s multi-billion dollar pension fund to do the same.

We are already feeling the impacts of climate change in Washington state: In recent years, over 50% of Columbia River salmon have died in overheated rivers, record-breaking wildfires have scorched lands, burned homes and killed, drought has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars and snowpacks have plummeted resulting in more water pollution, less drinking water and less hydro-electric capacity. As is true across our planet, these negative impacts fall most heavily on already marginalized communities.

Around the world, particularly in the global south -- in the nations that have done the least to cause climate change and who have benefitted the least from centuries of carbon-intensive development -- the impacts of global warming are even worse: Over 150,000 people are already dying every year as a direct result of human-caused climate change, tens of thousands have already been killed and made homeless due to extreme weather events and entire island nations have already begun negotiations to relocate their entire populations.

Given these injustices, the City of Seattle, the fourth richest city in the richest nation on Earth, has a responsibility to assume further leadership in transitioning away from the fossil fuel economy and towards a renewable energy economy – and fossil fuel divestment is an important component of that leadership.

The world’s foremost body of experts working on the problem of climate change is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In their most recent report the IPCC found that to have any chance of curtailing climate change, we must divest over $30 billion annually from the fossil fuel sector and invest an additional $147 billion annually in the clean energy sector. As has been recognized by the Chief of the World Bank, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the UN Secretary General, the UN Climate Chief and a large number of leading economists, fossil fuel divestment is a vital tool in helping us achieve this.

Fossil fuel divestment is also in line with the City’s commitments to environmental justice, which were made in the 2016 Equity and Environment Agenda

A recent report from Got Green and Puget Sound Sage, Our People, Our Power, Our Planet, found “Many leaders of color deeply understand that the fossil fuel economy … must change, especially because it is the root of economic inequality and poverty in our communities.”

From this lens, we believe that fossil fuel divestment is an important part of both the City of Seattle’s commitment to environmental justice and its leadership in transitioning our nation away from a fossil fuel-based economy that is endangering the lives of the most vulnerable for the benefit of the most secure.   

In the past members of the Seattle pension fund board have argued that shareholder engagement is a more effective means of creating change than full divestment.

However, while shareholder engagement has, at times, been effective in shifting some of the practices of particular businesses, shareholder engagement has never been used successfully to alter the core business model of an entire industry. What is more, regulations laid out by the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) limit shareholder engagement to requesting information and attempting to engender change in certain corporate policies, but does not allow shareholders to attempt modify the central business models of the corporations they are a part of. This is highly problematic when we consider the Union of Concerned Scientists’ findings that 75% of fossil fuel companies have central business models that are starkly at odds with curtailing catastrophic climate change.

Thus it is clear that for the City of Seattle to be a leader on climate and environmental justice, it must do more than commit to shareholder engagement with fossil fuel companies. It must divest its financial holdings from coal, oil, and gas companies, and thus remove the financial support and social license it currently grants to the companies that have an economic interest in further altering the climate on which we all depend.

The City of Seattle has shown leadership on divestment before. In 2013, Mayor McGinn announced the city would divest its own holdings and begin the process of divesting the pension. In 2014 the City Council and Mayor passed a resolution adopting the same goal and urging the pension board to consider divesting from fossil fuels; however, since then, pension board members have repeatedly voted against divestment. In 2015, Councilmember Licata requested a financial report. The consultant returned a report that failed to adequately assess climate risk and is contrary to the findings of many financial experts around the world. Since then the pension board has continued to rely heavily on problematic and outdated advice from their financial consultant, which has exposed the pension fund to risks and resulted in losses for the pension fund on their fossil fuel investments.

In 2016, advocates requested divestment from coal, an industry whose value has plummeted in recent years, as evidenced in the bankruptcy of the world’s two largest coal companies; yet, the board refused to divest even from coal -- the dirtiest and least profitable of fossil fuels.

During this process two members of the Mayor’s administration have voted repeatedly against all forms of divestment. While, since taking on the role of Chair of the Board, Councilmember Burgess has failed to take leadership on the issue.

Despite this history of intransigence from the pension board, there is a clear financial imperative to remove Seattle’s taxpayers dollars from the fossil fuel industry. Other local institutions, such as The Gates Foundation, have lost billions by remaining invested in fossil fuels in recent years. Many of the signers of this letter participated in the Gates Divest campaign, and a combination of The Gates Foundation’s losses on fossil fuel investments and the public outcry for fossil fuel divestment is something which they are clearly attuned to, as they have now divested 85% of their fossil fuel holdings from a starting point of $1.4 billion in 2014.

We are concerned that by refusing to divest, the City of Seattle is not only refusing to do all that it can to combat climate change and rise to the environmental justice challenges it has set itself, but it is also endangering the financial security of city workers and the taxpayers in general in order to actively fund companies like Exxon-Mobil -- a company whose share market value has decreased hugely in recent years and has fought action on climate for decades and is now being investigated by the SEC for failing to reveal the risks that climate poses to its share market value.

It is from this background that we call on Mayor Murray, Councilmember Burgess and the City of Seattle Pension Board of Administration to:

         (1) Immediately stop any new investments in the top 200 fossil fuel companies,

        (2) Drop coal, oil and gas from your investment portfolio by divesting from the top
             200 fossil fuel companies by 2020,

        (3) Commit to reinvesting at least 5 percent of your portfolio into
             climate solutions defined as, but not limited to, renewable energy, energy
             efficiency, clean technology, community adaptation funds, transit, and clean
             energy access.

We also call on the following three steps to be taken immediately to help achieve this:

          (1) Instruct the SCERS board to hire a financial consultant who can accurately
               assess climate risk as part of their analysis

          (2) Mayor Murray should show true climate leadership by instructing his staff on the
               board to vote for divestment, instead of blocking it.

          (3) As Chair of the Board, Councilmember Burgess needs to show leadership by
               making a public statement on the merits of fossil fuel divestment and pushing the
               board of administration to vote in favor of divestment

As we watch extreme weather events like Hurricane Matthew force two million Americans to flee their homes, and leave over one million in Haiti in need of urgent humanitarian aid, there can be no more excuses. The City of Seattle has a duty to back up its words with actions: if we say we support Native Americans in fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline, if we say we oppose coal trains and Shell’s Arctic drilling and if we say we support environmental justice, then we need to stop investing in the companies that are funding the coal trains, the Arctic drilling, the Dakota Access Pipeline and the grotesque environmental injustices that plague our city, our state and our planet.

Dr. Bruce Amundson, President, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility

Jesse Piedfort, Chair, Sierra Club Seattle Chapter

Nick Licata, Former Seattle City Council Member

Annette Stofer, President, AFT Seattle Community Colleges Local 1789—Local 1789 represents all faculty, teachers, librarians, and counselors, in the Seattle Community Colleges.

Robby Stern, Retiree Activist Leader

Jon Grant, Candidate for Seattle City Council Position 8

Dr. Amy Hagopian, UW Faculty and Faculty Forward SEIU union steering committee member

James Liner, UW Faculty and Faculty Forward SEIU steering committee member

Karen Cowgill, Epidemiologist, Asst Prof. UW Tacoma/Affiliate Faculty UW Department of Global Health

Michelle Garrison, PhD, Research Associate Professor, University of Washington, School of Medicine and School of Public Health

Aaron Katz, Principal Lecturer, School of Public Health, University of Washington

Sam Hatzenbeler, MPH, Clinical Faculty, University of Washington, School of Public Health

Trace Lane Chaplin, MPA, MSW/AM, University of Washington, Doctoral Student Food & Water Watch: Seattle

Dr. Eileen Gibbons, Medical Director, Seattle Medical and Wellness Clinic

Daniel Elefant, Master of Science, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Heather Day,  Executive Director, Community Alliance for Global Justice

Andrea Rodgers, Attorney, Western Environmental Law Center

Anne Miller, Steering Committee, South Seattle Climate Action Network

Bill Moyer, Executive Director, Backbone Campaign

Val Costa, Founder, Aril Consulting


Yours Sincerely,

Emily Johnston, Board President, 350 Seattle

Jill Mangaliman, Got Green, Executive Director

Rachel Heaton, #NoDAPL and #DeFundDAPL Coalition

Matt Remle, recipient of Seattle’s Individual Human Rights Leader award and author of the City of Seattle’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution

James Apa, Chair, 43rd District Democrats

Georgia Davenport, 33rd Legislative District Committee Woman to the WSDCC

Imam Jamal Rahman, Interfaith Community Sanctuary

Rev. Kay C Barckley, Deacon, University Temple UMC

Rev. Jenny Phillips, Minister for Environmental Stewardship and Advocacy Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church

Reverend Angela Ying, Pastor, Bethany United Church of Christ, Seattle

The Rev. Katie M Ladd, Pastor, Queen Anne Methodist Church

Rev. Rich Lang, Seattle District Superintendent,
The United Methodist Church

Rev. Neal S. Sharpe, Pastor, Capitol Hill United Methodist Church Plant

Rev. Dr. Joanne Carlson Brown, Tibbetts United Methodist Church, West Seattle

Rev. Kathleen Weber, Trinity United Methodist Church, Ballard

Rev. Meighan Pritchard, Prospect United Church of Christ.

Rev. Mark Newton, Unitarian Universalist

Rabbi David Basior, Kadima Reconstructionist Community

Rabbi David Fine

Rev. Janelle Kurtz, Sand Point Community United Methodist Church

Rev. John Helmiere, Lead Pastor, Valley and Mountain Fellowship (UMC)

Rev. Charis Weathers, Pastor, Echoes Bellingham

Rebecca Deutsch, Co-Founder and CTO, Parlay