Boulder County on Thursday proclaimed it will screen insurance companies it does business with to inspect their investments and other clients for ties to the fossil fuel industry, threatening to avoid contracting providers with extraction associations.
The county is also urging the insurance industry to divest from fossil fuels, with public officials hoping to move the needle in reducing planet-warming carbon emissions from the extraction of such energy sources and their consumption.
Environmental advocacy organization 350 Colorado claimed Boulder County’s proclamation made it the first county in the nation to call for divestment from insurance companies funding or protecting fossil fuel companies.
“At Boulder County, we’re continually looking at ways to reduce our carbon footprint and invest in energy choices that help combat the escalating impacts of climate change,” Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones stated in a news release. “By making it a preference to invest in companies that choose not to do business with some of the main drivers of climate change, we help further our goal of minimizing our contributions to the climate crisis and support the transition to a low-carbon economy.”
The government’s move was appreciated by the advocacy group, which said scrutinizing insurance carriers’ practices and portfolios and expressing preferences for those without ties to fossil fuels is a growing movement.
“We applaud Boulder County for (its) leadership in taking this important step to help defund the climate crisis and align taxpayer dollars with local values and efforts to stabilize the climate and transition to a clean, renewable energy future,” Micah Parkin, executive director of 350 Colorado and a member of the 350 Boulder County Team, stated in a news release.
Boulder County followed Paris and San Francisco, which adopted similar resolutions in 2018, according to the advocacy group’s release.
Boulder County’s resolution said the 40 largest U.S. insurers hold combined investments of more than $450 billion in coal, oil, gas and electric utilities, with the advocacy group citing a 2016 report by sustainability nonprofit Ceres that highlighted the insurance industry fortune behind fossil fuels.
“Fossil fuels investments are bad investments, just look at all the coal company bankruptcies,” Boulder County Commissioner Matt Jones stated in a county release. “And that does not count the human and environmental toll of their pollution. By making this decision, we call on the insurance industry to take action against pollution and climate change by ending their underwriting of fossil fuel companies.”
Since 2015, 19 global insurers have adopted policies to limit or end their insurance for coal, according to the environmental group, but just four are U.S. insurers. Nearly 30 insurers have announced plans to divest from coal assets, 350 Colorado said.
Colorado Oil and Gas Association CEO Dan Haley decried the county’s action.
“Insurance exists to protect communities, workforce and the environment against any unplanned or unforeseen outcomes. Why would you play political games with that?” Haley said in a statement. “Should the county stop insurance protection for home builders or road construction? Or what about waste water treatment facilities or auto dealers? There are climate impacts or potential environmental impacts from everything we do.
“Rather than trying to paint the world as black and white, it might be more constructive to have useful policy discussions about what we can do to lift all boats, rather than trying to sink the boat they view as least favorite.”
State officials in the Department of Regulatory Agencies’ Division of Insurance declined to comment Thursday, with Assistant Commissioner Vincent Plymell the organization will need time to review how the county’s action will impact the companies it regulates if it spurs similar moves by other local governments.