Rally Places Spotlight on City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Urging Him to Leverage City’s $175 Billion Pensions to Support Climate Action
*High-res photos, video footage & fact sheets available upon request*
New York — More than 150 New Yorkers convened at a public garden inside Trump Tower to host a teach-in about fossil fuel divestment and urge New York City to show climate leadership in the face of Trump’s attack on climate change and the Paris Agreement. The teach-in, part of a global week of divestment action, took particular aim at New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. Stringer oversees the city’s $175 billion pension fund portfolio and faces mounting pressure to divest from fossil fuels and pipelines. The Trump Organization summoned the FDNY in an attempt to shut down the teach-in but it was permitted to continue.
“Trump’s doomsday climate policies underscore the need for city leaders like Scott Stringer to step up and fight the DC devil,” said Reverend Billy Talen. Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, a band that tours with Neil Young and Joan Baez, opened the teach-in with satirical climate change songs and a sermon that invoked Superstorm Sandy. The storm was responsible for 159 deaths, $65 billion in economic damages, and 8.5 million home power losses when it struck in 2012.
The teach-in call for fossil fuel divestment was applauded by elected leaders and comes after Council Member Helen Rosenthal (Manhattan, District 6), New York State Senator Liz Krueger, and State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz warn that there are financial risks to the city pension funds if New York does not divest. “By fully divesting New York City pension funds from coal, oil, and gas, we would take a prudent step toward protecting 1.5 million pension-holders, withdraw our support from companies that are driving climate change, and align our financial interests with our goals of moving toward a cleaner, fossil fuel-free energy system,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal (Manhattan, District 6).
“Comptroller Stringer talks about fighting for our communities and standing up to Trump, but as the saying goes, it is time for him to put the money where his mouth is,” said May Boeve, Executive Director at 350.org, and speaker at todays teach-in. “Divestment is not only a moral imperative, the revolution to replace dirty energy with clean energy makes it a strategic investment.” A report by Advisor Partners found that City’s Teacher Retirement System lost approximately $135 million due to investments in oil and gas companies in 2015 and further losses are anticipated as renewable energy developments continue to proliferate.
“For a city that prides itself on being a frontrunner, New York is quickly falling behind when it comes to investing in a climate-friendly future,” said Jamie Tyberg with New York Communities for Change. The global divestment movement, which has driven a series of major victories in recent months, seeks to curb the political and financial influence of fossil fuel companies. More than 700 institutions with over $5.45 trillion in assets, including someof the world’s largest pension funds, have committed to divest. New York City’s iconic Riverside Church, built with Rockefeller oil money, recently announced its intention to divest its $140 million endowment.
Scott Stringer is tasked with managing New York City’s five pension funds. The combined funds represent 715,000 members, retirees and their beneficiaries with assets that total $175 billion. The funds have millions invested in fossil fuel companies. For example, the New York City Employee Retirement System’s has approximately $321 million invested in Exxon and $169 million invested in Chevron alone. The Teacher’s Retirement System of the City of New York has $68 million invested in Exxon and $34 million invested in Chevron.
“Many of the same banks responsible for fueling climate change also engage in discriminatory and abusive financial practices, and systematically siphon wealth from New York City communities of color and lower income and immigrant neighborhoods — often the same frontline communities most affected by climate change,” said Sarah Ludwig, founder and co-director of New Economy Project. “It’s a travesty that New York City continues to enrich Wall Street banks that are demonstrably harming New Yorkers and destabilizing New York neighborhoods.”
To symbolize the tug-of-war between large fossil fuel companies and the people of New York, the teach-in included a literal tug-of-war depicting Stringer caught between both sides, and eventually being pulled to divest. Today’s teach-in specifically called on Stringer to immediately freeze any new fossil fuel investments, including pulling finances from Wells Fargo over their support of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Speakers called on Stringer to remove equity and debt investments in the largest 200 fossil fuel companies.
The teach-in is the latest in a series of direct actions at Trump Tower that utilize the skyscraper as a living lab to educate voters and elected leaders about the risks of Trump’s policies. Participants held the event at the fifth floor garden in Trump Tower, which isrequired by city zoning law to be accessible to the public seven days a week from 8 am to 10 pm.
Mr. Trump agreed to create the public garden in a 1979 agreement with NYC in exchange for a zoning variance to build an additional 20 stories on the tower. The agreement netted Mr. Trump an estimated $530 million in profit but the president has violated the public spacerequirement on several occasions by closing the garden at intermittent times without justifiable cause and neglecting the space. The skyscraper’s garden was closed to the public during previous teach-ins, again violating New York City zoning code.
Scott Stringer has critiqued Trump for his violation of his agreement to maintain the privately- owned public space (POPS). A recent audit by the Comptroller’s Office found that more than half of the POPS in New York City are not meeting the terms agreed to by developers who were ceded the right to build larger buildings in return for creating public space. Stringer remarked: “What’s happening is simply unbelievable. It’s egregious. New Yorkers are literally getting cheated out of tens of millions of dollars in public space.”
“Scott Stringer highlights his willingness to challenge real estate developers like Trump by accusing them of cheating New Yorkers out of tens of millions of dollars in public space. But unless Stringer divests from fossil fuels, he is cheating New Yorkers of their future,” saidKim Fraczek, Director of Sane Energy Project.
350.org is building a global grassroots climate movement that can hold leaders accountable to the realities of science and principles of justice.
New York Communities for Change is a multi-racial membership based organization of working families fighting against economic and racial oppression