February 27, 2019

Delivering thousands of petitions, New Yorkers take creative action, lobby for fossil fuel divestment

NYS Comptroller DiNapoli sends unprecedented letter to full state legislature opposing divestment, Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblyman Felix Ortiz respond

Albany, NY — Over 50 people rallied in New York’s capital today urging Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and state officials to stand for a Green New Deal for New York by supporting action to divest the state pension fund from fossil fuels. Traveling from across the state, participants staged a tug of war between New Yorkers and fossil fuel executives, with a garbed DiNapoli in the middle. Following the stunt, activists began a series of meetings with 40 legislators, urging passage of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act.

“I lost everything in Sandy and then my family in Puerto Rico also were flooded out in Maria. New York City is divesting its pension funds and even Governor Cuomo supports state divestment,” said Rachel Rivera a Sandy survivor and member of New York Communities for Change (NYCC). “How many people need to die from climate change? How many need to lose their homes?  What the hell is wrong with Comptroller DiNapoli that he doesn’t understand that pumping investments into companies whose business model destroys the state is simply insane?”

The Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, co-sponsored by New York State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, currently has 22 senate and 30 assembly sponsors. Yesterday, Krueger and Ortiz released a clear-eyed response to an unusual letter from DiNapoli where he lobbied against the bill. The Comptroller sending such a letter to the full legislature is highly unprecedented.

“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.”

Pensioners, community members, and young people launched the call for DiNapoli to divest the day after Superstorm Sandy hit, a storm which devastated the lives and livelihoods of New Yorkers, and cost taxpayers over $60 billion with recovery still ongoing. In January 2018, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Comptroller Scott Stringer announced their commitment to divest the City’s similar-sized pension funds within five years. To date, over 1020 institutions representing more than $8 trillion in assets have committed to divest.

“As a person living on a state pension, I am outraged that the state retiree fund is continuing to support the fossil fuel industry and its continuing damage to our climate,” said Steve Redler, pensioneer and resident of Bethlehem in Albany County. “Studies show the state retiree fund experienced a lower return in recent years because it maintained its fossil fuel investments. Divestment is a way of increasing the security of our planet — and my financial security as well.”

Still, DiNapoli is investing $13 billion of pension money in fossil fuel companies, despite proof of financial imprudence. This includes $1 billion in ExxonMobil, a company currently being sued for fraud by NY attorney general Tish James. DiNapoli has ignored calls to divest, arguing instead for shareholder engagement, despite Reuters recently revealing Exxon’s attempts yet again to block his climate resolution from going to a vote at the company’s annual meeting.

During his State of the State, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed state agencies to begin the process of divestment. DiNapoli remains isolated as the world urgently moves off fossil fuels, and as New York takes bold action for a Green New Deal.

“Enough is enough. It’s time for New York State to divest from companies using fossil fuel sources that continue to continue to destroy our  atmosphere and waterways,” said Assistant Speaker Assemblyman Felix Ortiz. “We can no longer allow corporate pollution to jeopardize future generations. I’ve re-introduced my Fossil Fuel Divestment bill to take the state’s money out of the pockets of corporate polluters. Hurricane Sandy and the re-occurring polar vortexes taught us the lessons to invest in renewable energy. Let’s take one step forward through divestment.”

Today’s events take place in the lead-up to the March 20 forum for a Green New Deal for NY and ahead of an April 30 formal legislative hearing on the Divestment bill convened by Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Felix Ortiz.


Ruth Foster, Director of the NY Climate Advocacy Project, said: “How long do we have to wait until politicians realize that global warming is already a crisis? People are dying now from wildfires, hurricanes, drought and the polar vortex. Not only is it immoral to fund the fossil fuel industry, it is also fiscally irresponsible. Funding the fossil fuel industry today is like funding horse and buggy industry in the 1920s. We need Comptroller DiNapoli to divest from the fossil fuel companies now.”  

Cata Romo, Fossil Free New York Campaigner, 350.org, said: “As a New Yorker, my community is living with the impacts of climate chaos now. We see it in heatwaves and polar vortexes; in fires scorching the west coast; in superstorms harming our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico. I want my Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, to lead by cutting ties with fraudulent companies like Exxon and fracked gas pipeline companies like Williams. It’s time DiNapoli make New York a real leader in investing in climate solutions.”

Rich Schrader, NY Political Director for NRDC, said: “Divestment shines a light on the need to cut loose fiscal ties with powerful polluters. We need more of our leaders to follow Governor Cuomo’s lead and take bold action to ensure our energy policies represent the interests of our children and grandchildren – that means doing without dirty fossil fuels and charting a better, safer, healthier way forward. It’s up to Comptroller DiNapoli to get on board – there’s no time to wait.”

Clara Vondrich, Director Divest Invest, said: “Comptroller DiNapoli is leaving billions of dollars on the table by refusing to divest: The fossil fuel industry is underperforming and volatile, finishing dead last in the S&P500 last year. If you are a day trader with a high risk appetite, fossil fuels are for you. But as a long-term investor with fiduciary duties, Comptroller DiNapoli has no business gambling with the hard-won pension benefits of New Yorkers. A study last year by Corporate Knights was clear: Each beneficiary of the state pension fund would have been about $19,000 richer had Comptroller DiNapoli divested a decade ago. That’s real money that New Yorkers need now. Stop digging the hole deeper for your pensioners and the planet — Divest Invest.”

Greg Young, Supervisor of Fulton County, said: “As the world moves to end the era of fossil fuels, the financial risk of staying invested continues to grow for our pensioners. Climate change is harming our communities, and we must use all tools at our disposal to curb the destructive influence of the companies most responsible, and invest in climate solutions that benefit local communities and make them more resilient.”

Mark Dunlea, Chairperson of the Green Education and Legal Fund, said: “The IPCC has called for immediate action to end the era of fossil fuels and increase the likelihood that life on our planet can survive climate change. Divestment from fossil fuels is also critical to protect taxpayers and public workers from the growing loss of value from the fossil fuel sector. It is unfortunate that the present state comptroller wants to talk to fossil fuel companies rather than provide national leadership to demand climate action. We urge state lawmakers to make New York the first state in the U.S. to divest from fossil fuels.”

Dorian Fulvio, 350NYC, said: “Comptroller DiNapoli claims to recognize the risk that climate change poses to financial markets.  Yet he refuses to divest the State’s pension fund assets from fossil fuel investments, claiming that a “ shareholder engagement” strategy will persuade these companies to change.  His approach has been a failure both financially (in the form of pension fund losses from poorly performing fossil fuel investments) and strategically (because these companies haven’t changed anything, and have no intention of doing so). We have precious little time to get off fossil fuels.  Let’s not waste that time in hopeless negotiations that leave our pension funds at risk.”

Eileen Moran, Chair, Environmental Justice Working Group, Professional Staff Congress-CUNY, AFT local 2334, said: “The PSC Environmental Justice Working Group strongly supports the divesting of public pensions out of fossil fuels and the financial interests that would make morel drilling , extraction or pipelines possible.  To have healthy retirements we need to leave 80% of the already identified fossil fuels in the ground. Already fossil fuel stocks are doing poorly compared with the general index funds. Divesting pensions from fossil fuel will both protect our pensions from devalued fossil fuel stocks and send a message to the industry’s bankers that they will lose even more money if they support more fossil fuel development and infrastructure.  Instead, let’s invest our pensions for a Green New Deal.”

Nancy Romer, Environmental Justice Working Group, PSC-CUNY AFT local 2334, Executive Council member, 2000-2009, retiree, said: “How shocking that NY State Comptroller DiNapoli is still fronting for the fossil fuel industry! Pensioneers should not be suffering from financial holdings that are declining in value compared to the general stock index and are harming the future of our families, communities and planet.  The fossil fuel-based economy must be completely replaced by one that is based completely on renewable energy. The IPCC report and several other science-based reports make it clear that we have 12 years to make this turn-around Let’s protect pensions from the inevitable nose-dive of fossil fuel stock values and use our pensions to support a positive future with renewable energy.”


Contact: Lindsay Meiman, lindsay@350.org, (347) 460-9082

For more on New York’s pension funds by the numbers, explore this media pack.