Former CIO increases NYS pension investments in Williams pipeline company to $160 million, quits, then lands $300k+ director position with company next day
New York, NY — As officials and activists gather in New York for the 10th annual NYC Climate Week, WNYC released a bombshell bombshell investigative report today revealing what appears to be an egregious conflict of interest in the New York State Comptroller’s office. The report shows that former CIO Vicki Fuller left her position at New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office in July, and then immediately assumed a $300,000 director position with Williams Pipeline Company.
During her tenure under State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Fuller was a vocal opponent of fossil fuel divestment. Today’s report reveals she increased investments in Williams from $75 million to $160 million over five years, with New York’s state pension fund now one of Williams’ 100 largest institutional shareholders.
“This conflict of interest under Tom DiNapoli’s control is so blatant. How can one of the state’s highest-ranking employees take a job with a company she invested $160 million of public funds into and it not be flagged as unlawful and unethical?” said Lindsay Meiman, native New Yorker and 350.org US Communications Coordinator. “DiNapoli’s repeated attempts to engage with the likes of Exxon is a failure of his fiduciary duty to New Yorkers. We need to get dirty oil and gas money out of our politics, out of New York’s energy mix, and out of our pension funds.”
Williams is currently seeking state permits to build a 23-mile fracked gas pipeline through New Jersey harbor through New York waters and communities along the Staten Island coast, past Coney Island and into the Rockaways where communities are still rebuilding from Superstorm Sandy nearly six years later. Amidst mounting community opposition, Williams is also a backer of the proposed Constitution Pipeline.
Over 30 groups are demanding an investigation of the alleged conflict of interest from the NYS Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). A letter citing several potential violations of the State Public Officers Law was submitted Monday morning to the Commissioners of the JCOPE, copied to several state legislative committees and the state attorney general.
“Williams wants to dig a 23-mile long trench across New York’s Lower Harbor, which would disturb old industrial toxins like lead, arsenic, PCB’s, and dioxin and churn them into our waters, “ said Sara Gronim of the Stop the Williams Pipeline Coalition. “This from a company whose pipelines have exploded or caught fire fifteen times in the last ten years, leaving six people dead and 102 people injured. We cannot allow the livelihood of New Yorkers and the health of our harbor to be sacrificed to corporate influence in politics. Williams’ ties to the comptroller’s office must be thoroughly investigated.”
New Yorkers launched the call for Comptroller DiNapoli to divest from fossil fuels the day after Superstorm Sandy hit in October 2012. To date, DiNapoli has repeatedly refused to divest, arguing instead for shareholder engagement. The Comptroller DiNapoli is cited by oil and gas industry front-groups as an example other funds should follow. A May report by Corporate Knights found that New York’s pension fund would have generated an additional $15 billion of returns had it sold off its fossil fuel holdings and reinvested them in renewable energy.
“I never understood why Comptroller DiNapoli won’t just get out of the oil and gas companies that cause the climate crisis, but now I’m wondering if they don’t just all expect a big pay day from companies like Williams,” said Rachel Rivera, a Sandy survivor and board member of New York Communities for Change, whose daughter still has nightmares from Sandy.
Months after investigative reports revealed that Exxon knew and lied about climate change for decades, New York State and the Church of England introduced a shareholder resolution that would require the corporation to disclose the climate risk of its investments that passed last year. After ExxonMobil’s report cited virtually no risk of climate change on its business model, the Church of England announced it would divest from companies failing to align with the Paris Climate Agreement.
“We became homeless because of Sandy. We never really recovered. It’s time for questions to get answered and for DiNapoli to stop funding these companies. These are bad investments that are ruining people’s lives,” said Rivera.
Over 900 institutions representing more than $6 trillion in assets have committed to divest. In contrast to Comptroller DiNapoli’s failure to act, New York City is becoming a model for the rest of the world. In January, after five years of community campaigning, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced their commitment to divest the City’s $190 billion pension funds from fossil fuels, sue five major oil companies, and subsequently committed $4 billion invest in climate solutions.
Earlier this month, Comptroller Stringer announced his opposition to the Williams Pipeline citing risks to communities, land and water, and counter to the city’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Communities across New York State have been fighting proposed and existing dirty fossil fuel projects for years.
As the Trump administration dangerously rolls back hard-won climate and community protections, it’s more crucial than ever that New York’s officials at all levels lead the way. Today’s report comes just weeks after thousands participated in Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice marches across New York State and around the world.
Contact: Lindsay Meiman, firstname.lastname@example.org, (347) 460-9082