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New York celebrates it’s historic win against COVID-19 when the state went from being the epicenter in America to having the best continuing declining number of cases. The state is known to be a leader in climate change issues, now it is poised to divest its pension fund from the fossil fuel industry.

July 15, 2020

By Ramona du Houx

Elected Officials across the country are pursuing goals to divest their pension funds from investments in the fossil fuel industry.

We are at a tipping point said Kelly Martin, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuel Campaign, “A new era is upon us — one for clean energy, and one where the risks of fossil fuel infrastructure are increasingly exposed.” 

Back in 2014 there was a bill propose in the Maine legislature to divest the state’s pension fund from fossil fuel investments.

“The trustees of the Maine State Retirement Fund would be wise to understand their exposure to these risks, instruct fund managers to fully assess the portfolio risks linked to these investments, and divest their portfolios from these equities,” wrote Rep. Brian L. Jones of Freedom, Maine in an Oped about his proposed legislation.
“In the past, Maine has divested successfully its retirement funds from specific investments, notably from companies doing business with Sudan, South Africa and Namibia. The decision to divest from these companies was for moral or ethical reasons only. The divestment of Maine’s pension funds from fossil fuels is a moral imperative as well, but it’s also financially prudent and the proper course for the trustees of the Maine State Retirement Fund to follow.”
At the time Maine Governor Paul LePage (R) did not support the measure.
With the tide of public opinion now clearly opposed to carbon emissions, and the oil industry’s devastating reevaluations, a group called the Elected Officials to Protect New York says it’s time for New York state to divest. Hundreds of them have already signed a letter that demands immediate divestment from the “indefensible and irresponsible investment of taxpayer dollars in the failing fossil fuel industry.” The NY legislature is also moving to take action.


Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, second from left, in Washington, D.C. fighting for funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Photo by Ramona du Houx

“I stand proudly with the 97 sponsors from the Assembly and Senate calling on New York to pass the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act (A.1536-A/S.2126-B) and request that it be taken up when we reconvene in July,” said New York Assistant Speaker Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, EOPA Council Member and veteran.

Now EOPNY is urging New York’s Comptroller DiNapoli, the man in charge of the pension fund investments, to take action and divest, before the legislature forces the issue. Already lost 25 billion dollars has been lost from fossil fuel investments in the NY state pension fund.

Governor Andrew Cuomo back in 2017 expressed support for divestment, and still does. While DiNapoli did divest from the dying coal industry the pension fund is still invested in the oil/gas industry, which causes the majority of greenhouse gas emissions.

In a July 12 Times Union op-ed, Di Napoli claimed legislative action, “would threaten the independence of the comptroller’s office to make investment decisions solely in the interest of retirees, current and future.”

While his independence can be debated, EOPNY says those retirees cannot afford to wait for him to divest completely.

“New York State pensions are intended to provide secure futures. The state should never gamble with them. But that’s exactly what’s happening in a high stakes game with New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli investing state workers’ retirement funds in the fossil fuel industry, already losing at least $25 billion,” said Albany County Legislator William Reinhard. “That’s unconscionable.”

Recently the 8 billion dollar Atlantic Coast Pipeline was abruptly canceled after years of pressure from indigenous groups and organizers. Dominion, the principal corporation behind the exploitative fracked-gas pipeline, jettisoned future projects like it, scrambling to distance itself from natural gas. The Dakota Access Pipeline, whose unjust population violated Native sovereignty, threatened public health, and was met with sweeping protest by Indigenous peoples like the Standing Rock Sioux, was handed a devastating ruling requiring it to run dry of oil by next month.

A bid to restart construction on the Keystone XL Pipeline was utterly shut down. In light of these failures, the changing energy landscape, and the unacceptable fact that fossil fuel pipelines cause an explosion every 11 days and a fatality every 26 days in America, analysis by Bloomberg finds that, “U.S. pipelines are becoming increasingly unbuildable.” 

Worldwide, the downward spiral of fossil fuels worsened, as giants Shell and BP wrote off $40 billion of their assets as unrecoverable, a far cry from a once-militant optimism envisioning endless growth.

 Two thirds of Americans believe current steps to combat the climate crisis or to protect our lands and waters are insufficient. The concurrent crises of COVID-19, mass unemployment, and racial justice uprisings are forcing the nation to reckon with the status quo. Elected Officials To Protect America (EOPA) rejects returning to a normal that perpetuities injustices.

Elected Officials to Protect New York’s work successfully helped New York ban fracking, making history. In 2012, they pushed DiNapoli to divest NY pensions from FF corps, warning of the impending risk. They foresaw asset devaluations. Shell and BP, just lost 40 billion dollars.

“Currently, companies involved in the fossil fuel industry are at an even greater risk of losing value,”said New York Assistant Speaker Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, EOPA Council Member and veteran. “In combination with the negative impact fossil fuels have on the environment and climate, it’s time to divest now. New York can’t afford to wait.

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline which was newly approved by the Supreme Court, would have clearcut and blasted through precious, vulnerable landscapes, including Black, low-income, and indigenous communities, national forests, and 34 crossings of the iconic Appalachian Trail — is dead. It would have effected Maine.

The pipeline even drew high-profile opponents such as the Reverend William Barber II, National Board Member of the NAACP and former Vice President Al Gore, who called the whole affair a “reckless, racist rip-off.”

The evidence is mounting that investment in fossil fuels is a bad deal fiscally as well as a bad deal for the planet. More major pipeline verdicts followed swiftly on the heels of the ACP’s cancellation. The Dakota Access Pipeline, a sprawling, leaking, affront to native sovereignty, was at last brought to a grinding halt. Courts ruled that it violated environmental standards, in a massive blow for the industry and a long-overdue victory for the Indigenous water defenders who have been on the front lines opposing it for years. The Keystone XL Pipeline, long stalled because of its woefully inadequate environmental protections, was dealt another blow despite the Trump Administration’s attempt to bolster it.

These high-profile victories came right after the financial and regulatory coronavirus relief from the Federal government gave oil companies big boons — despite the horrible irony that these polluting industries may have contributed to a higher death rate from the virus.

In the throes of crisis, a chorus of experts, scientists, policy-makers and economists alike, are calling for a transformation of our world. Where the ACP died state legislatures look to the promise of clean and plentiful energy from offshore wind farms. Where DAPL will soon sit, silent and empty, the US’ massive solar potential could light the western skies.

Dozens of states have rolled out plans to phase out fossil fuel reliance. With growing oil volatility and the climate crisis, what was once easy money for the oil industry is now a massive liability. 

DiNapoli’s refusal to recognize that liability has already cost New Yorkers 25 billion dollars since 2008.  Numbers weren’t available at the time of publication from Maine to analyze what the state’s pension fund has lost. Years of expert analysis support divesting the New York Common Retirement Fund from fossil fuels.
New York’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Act is secluded to come to a vote this fall.
Numbers weren’t available at the time of publication from Maine to analyze what the state’s pension fund has lost by continuing to invest in fossil fuels. Colleges like Bowden and Colby have divested but the University of Maine has only divested from coal.
The evidence is clear the era of the fossil fuels is coming to an end. What will happen to pension funds still invested in them?