Tribe, Activists Ask Oregon Treasury to Divest $350 Million in Texas Gas Terminal
Tribe, activists ask Oregon Treasury to divest $350 million in proposed Texas gas terminal
Activists will ask the state to divest pension funds from a private equity firm funding the gas terminal at a Wednesday meeting of the Oregon Investment Council
Members of the South Texas Environmental Justice Network protest the proposed Rio Grande Liquid Natural Gas Terminal near Brownsville, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Rebekah Hinojosa)
Members of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas and activists from a financial watchdog group arrived in Portland this week to ask the Oregon State Treasury to divest from a controversial gas terminal proposed along the Gulf of Mexico.
For more than eight years, tribal members and environmental and social justice activists from Brownsville, Texas, have fought the proposed Rio Grande Liquified Natural Gas terminal at the Port of Brownsville, arguing that it’s a risk to the climate, to public health and to the fishing and tourism industries that people along the Gulf Coast depend on.
They arrived ahead of a Wednesday meeting of the Oregon Investment Council, which includes State Treasurer Tobias Read. Read and the other five members of the council decide where to invest money from Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System, or PERS. The Carrizo/Comecrudo tribal leaders and activists plan to speak at the meeting and submit written comments from activists who have been fighting the proposed terminal since 2015.
Join the Oregon Investment Council meeting
When: Wednesday, Jan. 24 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m
Oregon became involved last year, when the treasury department invested $350 million of the state’s public employees pension in Global Infrastructure Partners’ Fund V. Global Infrastructure Partners is a New York City-based private equity fund. Through its Fund V, the firm has invested $3.5 billion in the Rio Grande Liquified Natural Gas Terminal, according to the nonprofit financial watchdog group Private Equity Stakeholder Project.
The Rio Grande terminal, if built, would receive fracked gas from West Texas oil fields via a proposed pipeline called the Rio Bravo pipeline. Both would be owned by Houston-based NextDecade Corporation. The Rio Bravo pipeline, if built, would go through the Carrizo/Comecrudo tribe’s ancestral land.
At the terminal, the fracked gas would be cooled to a liquified state and exported via tanker ships as liquified natural gas for global markets. Natural gas is almost entirely methane gas, which is among the most potent climate-warming greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere.
Global Infrastructure Partners’ media representative did not respond to questions from the Capital Chronicle by Tuesday evening. Read, who is also preparing to present a “net-zero” plan for Oregon’s pension system on Feb. 6, will meet with activists and tribal members on Wednesday following the investment council meeting.
He declined to talk with the Capital Chronicle Tuesday, but treasury spokesperson Eric Engelson said in an email that, in general, the state treasury is unaware of individual investments in a private equity fund. Engelson said private equity managers provide disclosure documents that outline general aspects of investments.
The Rio Grande terminal is one of two liquified natural gas export terminals proposed at the Port of Brownsville. Construction on both was slated to begin by 2023, but both are instead still seeking financing. Two banks have already backed out of their investments in the terminals.
The Rio Grande project could result in 163 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, according to the Sierra Club, as much as the emissions of 44 coal plants, or more than 35 million cars.
Rebekah Hinojosa, a member of the South Texas Environmental Justice Network, a coalition of nonprofit environmental groups working to shut down the terminal, has been fighting the Rio Grande Terminal since she read about it in 2015. She lives in Brownsville and grew up in the Rio Grande Valley.
“We’re protesting every company, bank or pension fund that is involved,” Hinojosa said. “We are calling on them to immediately withdraw, because our community does not want to be sacrificed for gas projects.”
Joining members of the Carrizo/Comecrudo tribe at Wednesday’s Oregon Investment Council meeting are representatives from the Private Equity Stakeholder Project.
Nichole Heil, a campaign coordinator with the group said at the very least, they are asking the investment council to bring their concerns to Global Infrastructure Partners. Company representatives have not responded to activists, including repeated requests to meet, Heil said.
The group and coalition recently submitted comments to the Washington State Investment Board requesting it divest its $400 million investment in Global Infrastructure Partners’ Fund V.
At least three cities along Texas’ Gulf Coast have passed resolutions opposing the gas terminal and one, the city of Port Isabel, filed a lawsuit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency alleging officials did not conduct a sufficient environmental review.
Hinojosa said it feels as if gas projects are being forced on residents by the gas industry, and by state and federal governments.
“Every company, every private equity firm that’s involved, every regulatory agency, they’re all equally to blame,” she said. “And that’s why we’re urging Global Infrastructure Partners and the Oregon Investment Council to divest immediately. They should not be complicit with this project; with the destruction of our community. They can help us stop this project by withdrawing their investment immediately.”