Treasurer Tobias Read Pushes Back on Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill

Rep. Khanh Pham defended the Legislature’s oversight role.

Three lawmakers, Reps. Khanh Pham (D-Portland) and Mark Gamba (D-Milwaukie) and Sen. Jeff Golden (D-Ashland), are sponsoring legislation that would force the Oregon State Treasury to divest from certain fossil fuel investments.

But State Treasurer Tobias Read pushed back against House Bill 2601 in a Jan. 18 letter to lawmakers, noting that the treasury’s job is to maximize returns for pensioners to whom the state’s $91 billion in investments belong.

Read says dumping carbon stocks could weaken results and require larger contributions from government employers, reducing basic services. “Statutorily limiting the investment opportunities of the Oregon Public Employee Retirement Fund—no matter how well-intentioned—will lead to lower returns, higher employer rates, and a less robust retirement for thousands of Oregonians,” Read writes.

The lawmakers defended their bill. Golden noted Oregon invests more heavily in opaque private equity funds than other states; Gamba disputed fossil fuels are a good investment; and Pham defended the Legislature’s oversight role.

“This bill is about ensuring the long-term health of our state’s investments,” Pham said. “It’s about making our state and its residents more resilient to the climate crisis.”