Pittsburgh’s Pension Plan

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What fossil fuel divestment could mean for city’s pension fund

Written for the Pittsburgh Business Times, June19, 2017,

After the US left the Paris Accords, Pittsburgh committed to reaching numerous climate goals — including divesting the municipal pension fund of fossil fuels by 2030.
When it comes to his duties as the City of Pittsburgh’s finance director and head of the city’s pension fund, Paul Leger knows he has a “legal and fiduciary responsibility to gain the highest return on the fund possible.”
But if an order comes down from elected officials to make a change — say divest the city’s pension fund from fossil fuels — he’ll have to find a way to balance that command with his legal duty to protect the city’s investments.
After President Donald Trump decided to put Pittsburgh on the political map with an alliterative announcement against the Paris Agreement — an international treaty meant to push back on climate change — on June 1, Mayor Bill Peduto laid out the groundwork for a green decree.
“President Trump’s decision is disastrous for our planet, for cities such as Pittsburgh, to the commitments the United States made to the rest of the world, and to our responsibility to save the globe for future generations,” Peduto said in a statement that evening.
The next day, Peduto confirmed the city’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and its 2030 climate objective — including a commitment to divest its pension fund of “fossil-based companies.”
The executive order simply reiterated the city’s eco-friendly aspirations and had no real effect on Leger’s duty yet. For the divestment to be a priority for Leger, both City Council and the Comprehensive Municipal Pension Trust Fund board have to agree to the change.
Personally, Leger sees divestment as “good public policy.” And as “Pittsburgh tends to be a leader” in green technology and innovation, he sees no reason to stall.
“It’s just a good thing to do, and if you’re going to do it, why wait until 2030?” Leger said.
By Leger’s estimate, about 5 percent of the $415 million invested in mutual funds is invested in fossil fuels.
But even taking that 5 percent out could be harmful to the fund as a whole, according to a recently released study by Compass Lexecon, a Chicago-based economic consulting group.
Co-author Chris Fiore, vice president of Compass Lexecon, said the study found in every situation that divestment hurt pension funds. Compass Lexecon took 11 separate municipal retirement funds and compared results from the past 50 years of their portfolios with and without fossil fuels.
The study was sponsored by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which Fiore said did not influence the outcome.
Instead, according to Fiore, the result mostly comes down to risk. Because energy stocks tend to move the least with the economy as a whole, they are more risk resistant than other industry’s stocks that move with the economy.
“If you want the highest amount of returns, you actually can’t earn the same returns as you can with disinvestment as you can without divestment,” Fiore said. “You actually have to take on more risk.”
On a whole, the study found that the pension funds they measured lost .15 percent or .2 percent of their value depending on how strictly defined divestment was.
For Pittsburgh, Fiore said that meant they could lose $358,000 to $478,000 a year.
However, Leslie Samuelrich, executive director of the Boston-based investment group Green Century Capital Management Inc., has made a career out of green investing and sees the numbers cited by Fiore as “insignificant.”
Instead, she points to Green Century Equity Fund — which she says has consistently topped the S&P 500 average for “many years” — as well as other studies by groups like MSCI Inc. (NYSE: MSCI) that show thinking about finance ethically doesn’t necessarily mean monetary loss.
In fact, the reaction of Pittsburgh — to doubling down on divestment after the Paris Agreement pull out — is a reaction she has also seen from private citizens, not just municipalities.
“The imaginary wall between what you do in your personal life and what you do with your money has been eroding, and I think the climate accords punched a hole in that wall,” Samuelrich said.
Even if Samuelrich saw the percentages cited by Fiore as puny, when Leger looks at the city’s pension, he is cautious — and besides, he says that he “can’t afford to waste the city pension fund for any reason.” But with a 2030 deadline, he seems confident that there is a green path for the city’s pension.
“We have to be careful we do not remove well-performing funds to accomplish this goal,” Leger said. “If you did it recklessly and started dumping funds that had any fossil fuels you probably would [lose money]…[but] by careful management, I might be able to accomplish divestiture at the same time.”

Stephen Caruso
Intern
Pittsburgh Business Times

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Camp White Pines Needs Our Help

From: Camp White Pine <campwhitepinepa@gmail.com>
Date: July 3, 2017 at 9:12:35 PM EDTCamp White Pine
To: Camp White Pine <campwhitepinepa@gmail.com>
Subject: Camp White Pine Requesting Support!

Hello Friends and Allies,
Since Camp White Pine was formed in early February, our goal has been clear: to use this strategic location to put our bodies in the path of the Mariner East 2, an Energy Transfer Partner’s pipeline, to prevent its completion. Since then, we have maintained a continuous treesit on the pipeline easement to defend against the natural gas liquids pipeline they want to pump through these wetlands. We have publicized our efforts and hopefully inspired many along the pipeline route that resistance is possible.
Our civil disobedience has not been taken kindly by ETP or the Huntingdon County Judge, George Zanic. In April, Judge Zanic granted ETP a writ of possession – an unprecedented step in eminent domain cases – giving them the rights of a property owner over the easement on the Gerhart’s land. Six days ago, they took it a step further and got Judge Zanic to grant an injuction demanding a halt to our treesit and authorizing the police to arrest all who stand in the way of ETP’s construction efforts.
But we will not be deterred by the unjust actions of ETP and the local judicial system. Instead, we will stand in the long tradition of those who have disobeyed unjust laws to uphold a much higher authority.

AND WE ARE ASKING YOU TO HELP US.

We need support and we need bodies willing to stand in the path of corporate destruction and face potential arrest. Our tree climbers are going to be in the trees risking their lives to stop ETP’s pipeline construction. We need folks on the ground willing to risk arrest to protect our tree climbers and stand against ETP’s destruction.
ETP and their private security, TigerSwan, are attempting to smear us as violent extremists for simply living in trees to defend them from being cut down and killed. In reality, we are here to stand nonviolently in defense of our earth and our future generations. The more people who come to support us in nonviolent civil disobedience, the more effective we can be at combating their narrative and showing that there are many people willing to risk arrest to stand in the way of their destruction.
There is a song we sing at camp brought to us from allies from the Dakota Access Pipeline fight:

People gonna rise like the water, we’re gonna shut this pipeline down.
Hear the voices of my great granddaughter, saying “keep it in the ground”

It reminds us of the urgency of our choices and the effects they will have on future generations. The time is now, all we have is each other and the power of love. The oceans are rising, so must we.

”If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate-change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low down on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle everyday to protect their forest, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, the mountains, and the rivers protect them.” – Arundhati Roy

Solidarity Forever!
Camp White Pine

P.S. Please share with trusted contacts and peace/faith/justice groups that might be interested in supporting!!

 

 

 

 

 

EcoJustice Working Group

The Environmental Justice Committee

Broadening our Commitment to recognize our mission as one of Eco Justice.

The Environmental Justice Committee, an activity of the Thomas Merton Center,  is  enhancing our vision. Our work over the last few years has been a conscious and intentional journey into our work and mission as originally perceived.

We have held, participated, and encouraged actions in defense of life on Earth and paid close attention to the ecological and health effects of the industrial growth society (fossil fuels, nuclear power, weapons production, mining, food additives, factory farms etc.)

We have campaigned for laws to mitigate effects of pollution, poverty, loss of habitat, promoting wise social and environmental legislation that would recognize the global common good as our benchmark.

We have promoted education and incentives that inspire the use of renewable energy.

It is in our dedication to the analysis of the structural causes of  our severely damaged Creation that we we find the greatest misguided assumptions.

It is as we have explored and recognized that our perceptions of reality both cognitively and spiritually are central to our mission that we have enhanced, strengthened, our commitment that we have adopted a change of name and added an additional agreement.

EcoJustice

We believe EcoJustice more fully recognizes the unity and interdependence of all creation. We wish to be recognized as the EcoJustice Committee, an Activity of The Thomas Merton Center.

The TMC has a wonderful history of acknowledging the value of human life through its advocacy for people who are oppressed. The concept of Eco Justice expands this tradition to advocacy for the protection of all of creation.

All faith traditions speak to the intrinsic moral worth of all of creation. In the Judeo-Christian tradition this is generally based on the love of the Creator for all of creation. Other traditions express this differently but all carry the recognition of a right relationship with the land and with all creatures. This right relationship carries the expectation that humans live gently on the land –  living in ways which respect the earth and minimize disruption and abuse of the land.

Faith traditions also speak to the social injustices which result when the human community fails to live in a mutually respectful relationship with the land. We believe that global pollution, climate change, and global social injustice result from an historical human centered approach to the created world.  In such a human centered approach, significant destruction of the land is accepted for meeting human wants.

Our agreements:

While we respect the efforts of environmental groups whose goals are regulation of destructive processes, support from the eco-justice committee will be for those projects whose principles and goals reflect recognition of the intrinsic moral value of the earth.

We continue to recognize that the dominant economic model which has held sway upon the Earth for the past five hundred years is unsustainable. Our finite planet is not made of lifeless “resources,” nor is it capable of producing unlimited “energy” or absorbing an infinite amount of poison.

We continue to recognize that eco justice and climate justice are integral parts of social justice. It is the poor majority of humankind who most bears the brunt of environmental degradation in the form of hunger, illness, and displacement from their homes. The destruction of human cultures, biological communities, and entire species diminishes the world in untold ways and impacts all of us.

Earth has entered a period of grave crisis. Many scientists agree that we are living in the sixth great mass extinction. This requires of humankind a new way of living based on an understanding of the planet as a whole. As Thomas Berry said, we will go into the future as one community–all life included–or we will not go at all.

Position Papers

Dirty Gas Has No Place in a Clean Power Plan – Pennsylvanians Against Fracking Position Statement

Pennsylvanians Against Fracking supports the swift and just transition to 100% renewable energy. We oppose the continued reliance on any and all fossil fuels. Since shale gas development began in Pennsylvania, every administration has aggressively promoted, not just continued but expanded, reliance on natural gas. This has spurred shale gas development and its inevitable damage and is absolutely unacceptable. Gov. Wolf plans to rely on natural gas in his Clean Power Plan by building new gas power plants and using shale gas to meet energy needs, despite the damage this will cause. The Obama administration has also promoted an increased reliance on natural gas, touting it as a bridge fuel to get the nation through the transition to renewable energy because it is considered to be cleaner than coal and oil. When burned, it generates about half the CO2 than that of coal or oil. If that was the whole story of natural gas and climate change, there would still be plenty of reasons to oppose continued shale gas development — contaminated water, polluted air, illnesses, deaths, destruction of natural resources, and many others. However, natural gas’ role in climate change cannot be fully understood without looking beyond consumption to see its impacts during production.

 

When unconventional drilling began in Pennsylvania, little peer-reviewed science had been done on the new technology. The Environmental Protection Agency incorrectly assumed that methane release rates at well pads were negligible. We now know that a 3% leakage rate at well pads alone cancels any climate benefit natural gas provides when burned; leakage rates of more than double that are typical. Even worse, leaks occur at every phase of production, processing, transmission, and distribution. In addition, every well drilled today will join a legacy of hundreds of thousands of old wells that leak methane unless they are maintained every 25 years. The state has not even located the vast majority of the old wells yet, much less maintained them or developed a system to maintain the new glut of legacy wells .

The only solution is to stop fracking and speed the transition to 100% renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation. Methods for accomplishing that as soon as 2050 have been proposed. All of the methods rely on honest scientific and technical analysis to guide us forward and aggressive measures requiring political will, measures not found in the Clean Power Plan (CPP) put forward by the Obama administration. Some may view the CPP as a small step forward, but small steps are not helpful when you are at the edge of a cliff and it’s the leap that will save you. Make no mistake, we are collectively at the precipice.

Unfortunately, its lack of sufficiently aggressive measures is not the only problem with the Clean Power Plan. In fact, the Clean Power Plan may well do far more harm than good. It may ensure that we will be unable to avert warming the planet beyond the 2 degree C climate scientists have been telling us for several years is the point of no return. More recently, climate scientists have noted more extreme climate impacts at a 1 degree C change than they’d anticipated. At COP21 in Paris in December, 2015, representatives of island nations implored world leaders to agree to reduce the target to 1.5 degrees C. Their nations will be under water by the time the planet hits 2 degrees C.

Below are some of the ways in which the Clean Power Plan, as currently proposed, can actually help push us over the precipice.

The Clean Power Plan puts natural gas in the “clean” column

Methane is a short-lived but very powerful greenhouse gas. In the all-important 20 year time scale, it is 86 times more efficient at heating the atmosphere as is carbon dioxide. As mentioned above, the climate benefit natural gas provides during consumption is quickly canceled thanks to leaks that occur at an alarming rate at every step in the product life cycle of natural gas and continued leaking that occurs “beyond the grave” as old wells leak without proper maintenance. Natural gas has no place in a true Clean Power Plan, yet Obama’s plan allows for it to be among the energy sources states can choose to achieve their targets.

The Clean Power Plan guarantees increased reliance on natural gas

States like Pennsylvania that have gone all-in on shale gas development will elect to transition from coal-fired power plants to natural gas-fired power plants rather than transition to clean, sustainable, renewable energy alternatives. When climate scientists are telling us to leave 80% of all fossil fuels in the ground, trading one fossil fuel for another makes no sense economically or in terms of tackling climate change.  Coal, oil, natural gas, all fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases, must be left in the ground.

The Clean Power Plan doesn’t limit how much a state can rely on gas to meet its target

States choosing to meet their targets by relying 100% on natural gas would not be out of compliance with the terms of the Clean Power Plan. Even if no state is brazen enough to propose something so extreme, they are certainly under no pressure to take the kind of aggressive steps needed.

The Clean Power Plan institutionalizes and enables pollution

The public is absorbing the costs of harmful health impacts, disease, drinking water contamination, and environmental degradation that accompanies natural gas development. Taxpayers are burdened with paying for government subsidies and the costs of regulatory loopholes that incentivize natural gas. There is no attempt to realize these hidden costs to provide parity with renewable energy sources, which will lead to perpetuating these unacceptable impacts.

The Clean Power Plan means we can kiss a fracking moratorium or ban goodbye

In his paper, A Bridge to Nowhere, Methane Emissions and the Greenhouse Gas Footprint of Natural Gas, Dr. Robert Howarth of Cornell University notes that converting from coal to natural gas will require “unprecedented investment in natural gas infrastructure and regulatory oversight,” the kind of investment you don’t make in a temporary bridge fuel. Although Pennsylvania’s Clean Power Plan is still being drafted, a proliferation of natural gas power plants, attempts to incentivize pipeline development, and the Wolf administration’s recent announcement of methane rules bear out Howarth’s warning. If the Clean Power Plan is not changed to remove natural gas as an alternative to coal, we will continue to see more power plants, more pipelines, more compressor stations, and more wells. The things we will never see are a moratorium or ban on fracking.

A Climate for Change: People’s Pilgrimage, Rally, Conversation, Greening Our Faith

June 10, 2015
Dear Friend,
We are at a crossroads. Climate change calls for the mindful presence, compassion and action.

As the Vatican with Pope Francis’ leadership prepares to release the much anticipated Encyclical on Creation scheduled for June 18, we in Western PA are preparing. We will be considering care for creation, sustainable development and the impact that climate change is having on the world’s poorest people

The name of the Encyclical is Laudato Sii (Praised Be You), is taken from St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun”, a prayer praising God for Creation. The subtitle will be Italian, Sulla cura della casa comune, “on the care of the common home”.

People of faith and spirit around the world will be mingling prayer and mindful actions. We are continuing and building practices that can make a difference. Together we can inspire our leaders to be bold, and protect our future as we and they prepare for the Paris Climate Talks in late November-early December.


As you can see we will be offering many activities. 

  

June 21 will find us participating in the Pittsburgh 350.org Rally for Climate Justice on Summer Solstice Sunday. 

 

The morning of that We will begin with the first People’s Pilgrimage, a Walk for Paris. Our hope is that everyone will organize a series of mini-walks to or around the places you love, the places you are concerned about, remembering that around the world people are loving and caring for a region, a place, a family. Peoples Pilgrimages is a wonderful resource for prayers and meditations from around the world. 

Time to begin ….

The Environmental Justice Committee

Thomas Merton Center 

 

East Park, Allegheny Commons, Intersection of Cedar Ave and Lockhart Street, North Side.

There are two opportunities to demonstrate your concern about the climate crisis: a morning walk will connect climate change to air pollution from a Neville Island coke plant. In the afternoon there will be a Climate Action rally on the Northside.

ACTION: Bring your friends, family, neighbors and fellow workers to learn and demonstrate about the climate crisis.

Bring your hand-made signs and after the rally join the sidewalk procession over to the fountain at the Point. *Music provided by the Squirrel Hill Billies.*Reading of the Pittsburgh Climate Action Day Proclamation – Councilman Dan Gilman *Introductions and Opening Remarks – Patty DeMarco (Institute for Green Sciences, CMU) and many other interesting speakers. Description of the Problem and thoughts from local campaigns working on Solutions.
Sidewalk procession from Allegheny Commons to the fountain at the Point.

To RSVP or for more information contact Peter Wray at pjwray@verizon.net with ‘Climate Action Rally’ on the subject line.

A Climate for Change: 

Multifaith and Enspirited 

Conversation on Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center, Pittsburgh 350.org, and Penn Environment.

Panelists will address global and local challenges posed by the encyclical.

This important letter is expected to raise difficult questions about climate change, our relationship to creation and our responsibility for care of the Earth.

Come and be part of the conversation on Thursday, July 2, 7 pm, at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5700 Forbes Ave, Squirrel Hill.

Greening our Faith:  

A project of the Thomas Merton Center

Participants will apply study of eco-theology to congregational advocacy for climate change action.

This eight session series will begin on July 9nd and run through October 15th.

All events will be held at Church of the Redeemer in Squirrel Hill.

Dates for the series A Climate for Change, Greening our Faith:   

Thursday July 9th and 23rd, August 6th and 20th, Sept. 3rd and 17th, Oct. 1st and 15th, from 7-9 pm.  

Participants will be asked to purchase a copy of Patricia Tull’s,

Inhabiting Eden:Christians,The Bible and the Ecological Crisis.

To see why this book has been chosen please visit this book preview.

Additional resources will be provided.

For information, or to register for the series only, please contact Wanda Guthrie, Church of the Redeemer (wanda.guthrie@gmail.com ), Claudia Detwiler, Community House Presbyterian Church (cdetwil@earthlink.net).

You do not need to register for the July 2nd Papal Encyclical session.

Series discussion leaders are: Wanda Guthrie, Church of the Redeemer, Claudia Detwiler, Community House Presbyterian Church, and Dr. Randy Wiesenmayer, 1st United Methodist Church of Pittsburgh.

For more information contact: wanda.guthrie@gmail.com or 412-661-1529

Divest Pittsburgh 


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Wanda Guthrie Begins GreenFaith Fellowship

greenfaith logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                       Media Contacts:

October 22, 2014                                   Rev. Fletcher Harper

revfharper@greenfaith.org | 732-565-7740, ext. 301

Wanda Guthrie

environment@thomasmertoncenter.org|

Wanda Guthrie Begins GreenFaith Fellowship

National Initiative Training Diverse Religious-Environmental Leaders

Today, GreenFaith announced that Wanda Guthrie will join the Fellowship Class of 2015.  Wanda Guthrie will join 30 classmates from religious traditions including Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha’i, and Unitarian Universalist.  Members of this class of Fellows work in a wide variety of settings, including congregations, universities, environmental and religious NGO’s, denominational organizations, and peace organizations  “I’m looking forward to joining the Fellowship community,” said Wanda Guthrie.  “I’m deeply concerned about the threats facing the planet, and believe that religious communities can make an important impact.  I want to contribute to that movement.”

“We’re thrilled to welcome these new Fellows into the Program,” said Rev. Fletcher Harper, GreenFaith’s Executive Director.  “We look forward to working with them to support their growth as religious-environmental leaders.”

Since 2008, GreenFaith has trained over 130 Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Unitarian leaders for environmental leadership.  Through three residential retreats, monthly webinars, and extensive reading, the Fellows will receive education and training in eco-theology, “greening” the operation of religious institutions, environmental advocacy, and environmental justice. Each Fellow writes their own eco-theological statement and carries out a leadership project in their community, mobilizing religious leaders in relation to an environmental issue.  Upon graduating, they will join the Fellowship’s alumni/ae network and mentor other emerging leaders in this field.

Harper directs the Program, with support from a multi-faith and multi-disciplinary faculty.  “This program will offer these leaders the opportunity to become well-trained leaders in religious environmentalism,” said Harper.  “They will help create an environmentally just and sustainable world.”

GreenFaith is an interfaith environmental coalition whose mission is to educate and mobilize diverse religious communities for environmental leadership.  Founded in 1992, GreenFaith is a leader in the fast-growing religious-environmental movement and has won national and international recognition for its work.  For more information, see www.greenfaith.org.

GreenFaith is grateful to the Kendeda Sustainability Fund for support for the Fellowship Program.  For more information, visit www.greenfaith.org.

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Fossil-fuel disinvestment campaign launched

A local social-justice group yesterday announced its push to get local institutions to stop investing in fossil fuels. And it had company: the world’s best-known proponent of such disinvestment. Bill McKibben, founder of climate group 350.org, had stopped in Pittsburgh after returning from Europe, where he sought to persuade cities to pursue disinvestment. He was here to receive the Thomas Merton Award from Pittsburgh’s Thomas Merton Center, which plans to start gathering signatures on petitions asking Pittsburgh City Council to disinvest… Read More on pghcitypaper.com