April 30, 2019

New York State legislative hearing escalates urgency of fossil fuel divestment

One month ahead of Exxon’s shareholder meeting, experts and advocates highlight Comptroller DiNapoli hypocrisy, urge passage of Fossil Fuel Divestment Act

Photo credit: Cata Romo, 350.org

Albany, NY — Today, at a first-of-its-kind New York state legislative hearing “Divesting the State Pension Fund from fossil fuels,” experts and activists urged legislators to support the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act and make New York a real leader for climate justice.

The bill would require State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to responsibly divest from the largest 200 fossil fuel companies within five years, prioritizing low performing coal companies.

“How can Comptroller DiNapoli justify putting public money into investments whose business model destroys the state? That makes no sense,” said Rachel Rivera, a Sandy survivor and member of New York Communities for Change.

The Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, led by Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Felix Ortiz, has secured 10 new sponsors in the last month, including Senator Michael Gianaris endorsing at today’s hearing, amounting to 28 senate and 38 assembly sponsors. Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly called on DiNapoli to divest from fossil fuels, and recently directed state agencies and their $40 billion funds to move toward divestment.

Committee members asked poignant questions of the Comptroller’s representative for over 90 minutes. Questions focused on the role fossil fuel companies have in our politics, as well as the moral authority the Fund has to divest. Anastasia Titarchuk, Interim Chief Investment Officer at the Comptroller’s office, doubled down their argument for shareholder engagement, a strategy that has repeatedly failed with companies such as ExxonMobil. Titarchuk failed to make the case for staying invested in risky sectors, such as bankrupt-prone coal companies. Despite signing up to testify, fossil fuel front-group American Petroleum Institute failed to show up.  

“Climate change is the single greatest threat facing humanity; the only rational response is to use every tool at our disposal to prevent and mitigate its most catastrophic impacts,” said Senator Liz Krueger. “Divesting our state pension fund from fossil fuels will protect workers and retirees from the rapid loss of valuation that fossil fuel companies will suffer in the coming energy transition. It will also send a powerful message that it is no longer acceptable to invest in a business model that puts our entire planet at risk. The climate crisis is here – fiduciary and moral responsibility require the process of divestment to begin now.”

Earlier this month, the State Decarbonization Panel released a long-awaited report recommending overhauled management of the fund, including urgent climate risk assessment, essentially divestment by any other name. Testimonies from members of the Decarbonization Panel underscored that if Comptroller DiNapoli incorporated their recommendations, the Fund would not have any fossil fuel investments.

The Fund has more than $13 billion invested in fossil fuel companies. Research firm InfluenceMap recently revealed Comptroller DiNapoli still invests more than one billion dollars in companies with considerable coal reserves. These companies have reserves equivalent to annual CO2 emissions from 6.6 million cars, greater than the current emissions of the state of Connecticut. A report from research firm Corporate Knights revealed the pension fund would’ve been $22 billion richer if they divested a decade ago.

Pensioners, community members, and climate activists launched the call for DiNapoli to divest from fossil fuels the day after Superstorm Sandy hit, a storm which devastated the lives and livelihoods of New Yorkers, and cost taxpayers over $60 billion with costs of recovery still ongoing.

“As long as he continues to pour New Yorkers’ money into fossil fuels, Comptroller DiNapoli is failing his fiduciary duty,” said Cata Romo of 350.org. “As our communities pay the costs of climate chaos through our lives and livelihoods, we have not a moment to spare. We are grateful for the real climate leadership of Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Felix Ortiz, and urge our legislators pass the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act.”

To date, over 1050 institutions representing more than $8.5 trillion in assets have committed to divest, including the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, New York City’s pension funds, the City of Denver, Colorado, and the country of Ireland.

This comes days after more than 100 New Yorkers were trained in non-violent direct action through the Promise to Protect. In February, New Yorkers held a lobby day with more than 40 legislators urging fossil fuel divestment.

In just under one month, ExxonMobil will hold its annual shareholder meeting in Dallas. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission recently accepted Exxon’s appeal to block the Comptroller’s climate shareholder resolution.

QUOTE SHEET:

Nancy Romer, Environmental Justice Working Group, Professional Staff Congress of CUNY, AFT #2334, an affiliate of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), said: “PSC-CUNY, AFT#2334, stands behind New York State public pension funds divesting from fossil fuel stocks. We need to protect public workers’ pension funds from the growing and escalating decline of fossil fuel stock values. Here are three financial reasons to divest: most of the fossil fuel assets must be kept in the ground to prevent complete climate catastrophe; ongoing lawsuits will depress the value of fossil fuel stocks; and, the world’s determination to move toward 100% renewable energy will grow thus leaving those foolish enough to hold onto fossil fuel stocks in the lurch. Protect our pensions and our planet by divesting from fossil fuel stocks now. NY State public workers deserve this protection.”

Mark Dunlea of the Green Education and Legal Fund and PAUSE (People of Albany United for Safe Energy), said: “We can not afford to waste any more time in putting an end to the use of fossil fuels. It is time for the NYS Comptroller and state legislators to end any financial investment in companies that are killing life on the planet. The recent report by the state’s DeCarbonization Panel showed that continued investment of state pension fund dollars in fossil fuels was a bad financial risk. It is long past time to New York State to divest.

Daniel Zarrilli, NYC’s Chief Climate Policy Advisor and OneNYC Director, said: “The burning of fossil fuels is the single largest contributor to human-caused climate change.  This simple fact was denied and buried for decades by fossil fuel companies intent on misleading policymakers and the public. Now, New York City is seeking to end a decades-long pattern of deception and denial by holding those fossil fuel companies to account for the damage they’ve caused, while taking prudent steps to protect the financial interests of New Yorkers. As part of New York City’s Green New Deal, we are divesting from fossil fuels, investing in climate solutions, and working with cities across the globe looking to do the same. We look forward to working with the State on these critical actions.

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Contact: Lindsay Meiman, [email protected], (347) 460-9082

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