By Mark Dunlea – #DivestNY coalition
Kicking off Global Divestment Mobilization in New York, 40 activists gather in the state capital for a day of lobbying. We met with 30 legislators and were able to get another 3 co-sponsors on the state divestment bills, with hopefully more to come. There are presently 32 co-sponsors on the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act. The Act would force the State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to divest the state pension funds from owning the largest 200 oil, gas and coal companies – and make a real impact to further climate leadership in the state.
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, the sole trustee of the pension fund, has said that at least $5 billion is invested in various fossil fuel companies, including a billion dollars in Exxon. Exxon is presently under investigation by NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for its role in funding climate deniers even though its own scientists were warning the company about the reality of global warming.
Many of the members of our lobby team are fighting local fossil fuel infrastructure across the state including dangerous pipelines. With a strong turnout from 350NYC and 350Brooklyn and a great group from the Capital District, we gathered at the Westminster Presbyterian Church to get an update on the lobbying goals for the day, and to divide up into six teams, with each team member getting a speaking role in the lobby visits. Several dozen people were also in town from the NY State Sustainable Business Council to lobby and divestment was part of their agenda for the day. Most of the meetings targeted members of the committees presently considering the bill, the Assembly Government Employees committee and the Senate Civil Service and Pension committees. We also met with the staff of the leadership of the Republican-controlled State Senate. The bill is expected to be brought up for an important committee vote in the State Assembly soon.
There was a lot of legislative support for action on climate change and divestment. However, several legislators wanted to defer action to the State Comptroller, who is a former state Assemblymember. Unfortunately, the Comptroller prefers “engaging” fossil fuel companies like Exxon over divesting, despite there being no track record of tangible change as a result of engagement.
One highlight of the day was a spirited news conference held outside the Senate chambers. The two lead sponsors of the divestment bill, Senators Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Felix Ortiz, spoke, along with Albany County Legislator and state retiree Doug Bullock and Katie Wilson of the Sustainable Business Council. Senator Krueger noted:
“In the face of Donald Trump’s climate denial, it is up to states like New York to use absolutely every tool in our arsenal to stave off climate catastrophe. Fossil fuel divestment sends a powerful message that it is unacceptable to invest in companies whose fundamental business model requires the destabilization of our climate and our society. Investment experts increasingly recognize that divestment is not only morally imperative, but financially prudent, and necessary to maintaining portfolio value for pension beneficiaries during the coming clean-energy transition. For the sake of ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren, I urge my colleagues in the Legislature to sign on to this important bill.”
It was a great kick-off to a week of Global Divestment Mobilization activities in New York. Momentum is building as we move closer and closer to DivestNY from dirty and dangerous fossil fuel companies!
More than 700 institutions with assets totaling more than $5.4 trillion have committed to divest from fossil fuels. Institutions in NYS that have committed to divesting include Ithaca, Riverside Church, Amalgamated Bank, the American Museum of Natural History, Barnard College, Columbia University and the Village of Cooperstown. For a complete list click here.
Read more about the Lobby Day here
Join us! Take action at #DivestNY.org