April 8, 2020

Majority Of New York Senators Support Fossil Fuel Divestment Act

Nation leading ‘Super Bill’ would compel $200 billion pension fund to responsibly divest from risky oil and gas stocks

(Albany) The Fossil Fuel Divestment Act (S2126), led by Senator Liz Krueger (D-28), achieved “Super Bill” status with the recent sponsorship by Senator Anna Kaplan (D-7), a rare feat in the New York State legislature. This comes as the state pension fund’s holdings in energy companies shed billions of dollars in value, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, plunging oil prices and a year of underperformance in the energy sector. The bill, which would direct the State Comptroller to divest the $200 billion Common Retirement Fund from risky fossil fuel stocks within five years, now has 32 senate sponsors – a majority. 

Senator Anna M. Kaplan said “Climate change has the power to devastate life on Long Island and across New York State, and if we don’t take decisive action, our communities, and our economy, will be left behind.  We’ve already taken bold action in New York by passing the strongest climate change legislation in the nation, and now it’s time we lead again by divesting from companies that are contributing to our climate crisis, and investing in the solutions that will protect our communities.”

“There is incredible momentum behind the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act with the bill securing more than a dozen new senate and assembly sponsors since the beginning of 2020,” said Richard Brooks with 350.org. “Amidst this horrible health pandemic and economic upheaval, we aren’t losing sight of the longer term global crisis we face. The climate crisis must be stopped and that means using all tools at our disposal to do so, including divestment.” 

Climate advocates in the DivestNY coalition urged the Senate leadership to bring the FFDA to the floor for a vote. The coalition has also turned to the Assembly, where sponsors number more than fifty and legislators are increasingly worried about the outlook of the energy sector and the impact on the fund’s finances. Senator Kaplan co-sponsored the FFDA following the release of a financial analysis by 350.org that revealed that the pension fund had lost more $1.5 billion on its investments in just 16 tar sands and fracking companies in the last year – a decrease of 60% – with much of the losses coming before the oil price crash and coronavirus pandemic. The fund has more than $12 billion invested in fossil fuel companies according to its last available listing of assets. 

The future of fossil fuels is looking grimmer by the day. The best time to commit to divest would have been ten years ago. The next best time to make this commitment is now,” said Mimi Hoffman, who receives a pension from the Fund. “If the Comptroller isn’t going to act on his own, it’s time for the legislature to act as responsible fiduciaries and pass the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act.”

The FFDA, strengthened in late November, sets out a prudent course for divestment that gives the state Comptroller flexibility while mandating a reduction in risk to the fund by divesting from the majority of the pension’s fossil fuel assets. While the Comptroller has started a limited review of coal companies, he has taken no steps to address the larger risk of the fund’s significant oil and gas holdings. 

More than 1190 institutions with assets over $14 trillion including over 300 pension funds and governments have committed to divest from fossil fuels. New York City is in the midst of implementing a nation leading divestment commitment for its pension funds. Governor Cuomo has stated support for divestment of the state pension fund and directed public authorities which have assets valued at over $40 billion to divest from fossil fuels, including the State Insurance Fund and the MTA. 

Advocates remain committed to pushing ahead with the legislation despite interruption of the legislature, acknowledging the primary actions of legislators must be to first and foremost insure the health of all New Yorkers.

“Continued investments in the fossil fuel industry not only harm the future of my generation but the financial stability of the Common Retirement Fund,” said Hridesh Singh, who serves as the executive director for the New York Youth Climate Leaders. “We commend Senator Krueger and the rest of the senate co-sponsors for their leadership on this issue, and for prioritizing the future of my generation and pensioners alike.” 

Quote Sheet:

“Thirty-two New York State Senators are now sponsors of the Divestment Act.  These are sophisticated, smart leaders who have studied the bill and concluded, rightly, that being invested in fossil fuels is inconsistent with New York’s values, climate policy, and financial well-being.  They understand that we need to divest sooner rather than later in order to protect pensioners, taxpayers, and the planet.” said Jordan Dale 350NJ-Rockland

“COVID-19 prompted my wife to file this month with the Comptroller’s office to begin receiving her state pension. It disturbs us that the State Comptroller continues to invest in fossil fuel companies that threaten life on our planet. It worries us that the Comptroller stubbornly persists with such risky investments, ignoring their long record of poor performance which has dramatically worsened in the last year. We long ago divested from fossil fuels in our private retirement funds. We urge state lawmakers to finally intervene to protect taxpayers and retirees,” said Mark Dunlea of the Green Education and Legal Fund and PAUSE (People of Albany United for Safe Energy).

“My family lost everything in Sandy. New York City will slowly drown under rising seas while baking in heat waves unless powerful people like Comptroller DiNapoli stop funding the oil and gas corporations. I can tell you what that will mean for New York. There’s no time left for Comptroller DiNapoli to waste,” said Rachel Rivera, a Sandy survivor and member of New York Communities for Change (NYCC).

“New York passed the landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act last year which requires a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in just ten years. Why is the Comptroller still investing in climate destroying fossil fuels? This is morally inexcusable and financially irresponsible. The legislature must continue to provide climate leadership and pass the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act this session.” said Ruth Foster of the New York Climate Advocacy Project.

“It is high time we bury the fossil fuel regime and move to 100% renewable energy.  The covid-19 pandemic will look small in comparison to runaway climate change. That will be a disaster much too late for a solution.  We must act now as we see the climate crisis ahead. The Fossil Fuel Divestment Act will eventually remove over $19 billion worth of fossil fuel stocks in the NY State Common Pension Fund.It will protect workers from the free-fall that fossil fuels have been over the last 10 years and accelerating now.  It will help rid the world of climate changing energy. We must protect our people and our planet when we see the problem in front of us. Climate change is in front of us and we must act now with every tool at our disposal.” said Nancy Romer, Ph.D. Professor Emerita, Brooklyn College, CUNY & Peoples Climate Movement-NY 

“The fossil fuel industry has never been weaker. Comptroller DiNapoli’s idea that fiddling with the remains of dying, corrupt fossil fuel companies could transform their core business models is failing.  Fossil fuel investments have lost significant value beyond the recession brought on by Covid19 and will not revive. The renewable energy industry is growing steadily in strength and has proven its potential for rapid growth and in providing lasting and meaningful jobs for the State of New York. There are only a few years left to launch the biggest change in the history of humanity.  Support the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act now.” said John Ingram with 350NYC  

For more information contact: Richard Brooks richard@350.org 416-573-7209