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Activist challenges Blum on fossil fuel investments

WATERLOO — Nearly 300 people have signed a petition launched by a Cedar Rapids activist calling on U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, R-1st District, to divest from his investments in the fossil fuel industry.

Caleb Gates, of Cedar Rapids, said he launched the petition on change.org after he looked into Blum’s financial disclosures and noticed recent purchases of stakes in Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips. As an activist with left-leaning activist group Indivisible and environmental advocacy group Iowa 350, Gates decided to speak up.

“Congressman Blum, you must begin to put the needs of your constituents above your own pocketbook. Stop investing in fossil fuel companies whose activities pollute our air and water. Stop investing in out-of-state and multi-national corporations that do nothing to help the people of Iowa or Iowa’s economy,” Gates wrote in the petition.

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He called on Blum to divest of those investments, including additional stakes through his retirement account that have resulted in dividends from one of those companies, as well as PDC Energy, which is currently facing a federal lawsuit for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act.

Blum, a second term congressman from Dubuque who owns a software company, was dismissive of the petition.

“As a policy, we don’t comment on desperate Democrat diversions and distractions,” said Blum spokesman John Ferland. “The Congressman continues to work hard on behalf of the great folks in the 1st District.”

Gates said he’s been trying to talk to the congressman about this issue since before launching the petition. Indivisible groups in the 1st District also have held several events in an attempt to meet personally with Blum.

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Gates said he looked into Blum’s financial disclosures after the congressman said at a May town hall that financial disclosures held more interesting content than tax returns. The response was in reference to a question concerning Republican President Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns.

Members of Congress, and candidates, must file an annual report of their financial disclosures and periodic transaction reports, if they acquire new assets.

Blum’s investments in ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil came in February 2015 and September 2016, respectively, and they total between $200,000 and $500,000. The financial disclosure report only requires a range for the value of the assets, so it’s not clear his exact stake.

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There also are an additional $100,000 to $200,000 in investments in fossil fuel companies through a retirement fund. The amounts invested in fossil fuels represent a small share of Blum’s overall financial disclosures.

But Gates chose to focus on those particular assets because he sees Blum as denying humanity’s role in the climate changing. Blum has acknowledged the climate is changing but has downplayed people’s role in it.

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