Amidst growing controversy over his administration’s support for new natural gas projects, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker personally invested in the fossil fuel industry, DeSmog has found.
According to Baker’s recent financial disclosure, filed last week with the state’s Ethics Commission, the governor invested last year in a specialty energy fund composed almost exclusively of oil, gas, and coal companies.
Baker and his wife began investing in 2018 in Fidelity Advisor Energy Fund, which did not appear in the governor’s previous disclosures. (The disclosure likely misspelled the fund’s name as “Fidelity Advisory Energy CL.” Fidelity Investments confirmed to DeSmog that it does not have an investment vehicle by that name and that the closest product it offers is the Fidelity Advisor Energy Fund).
Investing in fossil fuel exploration and production
The fund’s portfolio is a veritable who’s who of the fossil fuel industry.
Its top 10 companies, comprising nearly half of the fund’s assets, include Chevron, EOG Resources, Valero Energy, Diamondback Energy, Phillips 66, Pioneer Natural Resources, ExxonMobil, Anadarko Petroleum, Cabot Oil & Gas, and Marathon Petroleum.
Companies engaged in fossil fuel exploration and production, through such methods as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), tar sands extraction, or offshore drilling, comprise the largest portion of the fund.
Natural gas infrastructure projects planned in Massachusetts — including Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge and Access Northeast projects and a liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage facility in central Massachusetts — require various state approvals and will be fed by gas extracted from the shale formations in Appalachia. Chevron, Anadarko, EOG Resources, and Cabot Oil & Gas — all in the top 10 companies in the Fidelity Advisor Energy Fund — are among the biggest players in those fracking fields.
“Specialty funds, like the one in this instance that focus on a specific sector, raise serious conflict of interest concerns if the elected official is committed to enriching that specific sector,” said Dr. Craig Holman, public affairs lobbyist for the watchdog group Public Citizen.
Governor Baker’s office did not respond to multiple emails and phone messages requesting comment about his investments and likely typo in the recent disclosure. A person who answered the press office number confirmed that Baker’s spokespeople received those requests.
Growing divestment calls
As a backdrop to Baker’s new investment, climate activists are increasingly calling on elected officials to remove fossil fuel money from politics. Groups like 350.org and the Sunrise Movement are pressing politicians to take the “no fossil fuel pledge,” whereby candidates running for office refuse the industry’s donations.
This joins the decade-long movement for institutional divestment from fossil fuels, which demands that government entities and other organizations like universities and churches relinquish investments in the industry.
In one of the biggest divestments to date, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund — a state-owned investment fund worth approximately a trillion dollars — recently announced it was divesting from oil and gas exploration companies.
Battles in Massachusetts over natural gas
Baker has been heralded in some quarters as a climate champion, a pragmatic Republican who, unlike the denialist camp in his party, actually recognizes the enormity of the threat posed by global warming. Testifying on Capitol Hill last winter, Baker talked about the toll extreme weather has taken on Massachusetts and reaffirmed the state’s commitment to cutting greenhouse emissions.
And indeed, Massachusetts has made some substantial strides in recent years, promoting offshore wind and investing in climate resiliency.
But the Baker’s administration stalling on solar incentives and insistence on shoring up natural gas supply to the region has dismayed activists.
The most visible battle is over Enbridge’s Atlantic Bridge project, where a group of citizens and activists have been able to delay the approval of a natural gas compressor station in Weymouth, just south of Boston. The project has been fraught with conflicts of interest and questionable regulatory decisions, as DeSmog has reported at length.
Most recently, revelations of undisclosed pollution data taken in the area threaten to upend the station’s air permit the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection granted Enbridge in January.
Opponents have been putting direct pressure on Baker to intervene and revoke the permit.
Yet his personal investments in the fossil fuel industry may raise further ethics questions.
“Since the governor is weighing in on major projects designed to boost the gas industries in the state, it is not at all appropriate for him to invest personally in the same sector that he may develop, with tax dollars,” said Public Citizen’s Holman.