Brooklyn Boro

NY lawmakers want state pension fund to drop oil companies

March 1, 2016 By Michael Virtanen Associated Press
Assemblymember Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) speaks during a public forum on climate change on Monday in Albany. Nearly two dozen state lawmakers want New York's public pension fund to drop stock holdings in oil, natural gas and coal companies as part of a movement against global warming. AP Photo/Mike Groll
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Nearly two dozen state lawmakers want New York’s public pension fund to drop stock holdings in oil, natural gas and coal companies as part of a movement against global warming.

Senate and Assembly bills would require the fund to divest holdings in the 200 largest publicly traded fossil fuel companies within a year and from all others by 2020.

Climate change threatens New Yorkers’ safety, health and wealth by raising sea levels, increasing storm intensity and droughts, threatening biodiversity, damaging property and increasing the cost of insurance, health care and government, according to the bill’s sponsors.

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“Let’s think about our children’s future,” Assemblymember Felix Ortiz said Monday at a public forum. The Brooklyn Democrat and other sponsors said the science that proves the planet is warming now is unequivocal, that 2015 was the hottest year on record.

The legislation failed to get out of committee last year. The bills currently have 11 Senate sponsors and 10 in the Assembly.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, questioned the American Petroleum Institute’s Karen Moreau, who acknowledged climate change was happening but declined to agree that fuel burning was the cause, noting “a diversity of opinion.”

Hoylman likened the institute’s stance to the defense of smoking by the Tobacco Institute, which had questioned its connection to cancer and other diseases. “We want to wean ourselves off your industry,” he said.

Moreau objected to the comparison. She said her industry has spent billions of dollars on efforts to improve conservation, reduce carbon emissions and examine alternatives. She emphasized that it provides “an affordable resource” used to produce the necessities of light, heat and transportation while employing hundreds of thousands of people and producing stronger returns than other investments, calling lower 2015 returns “a statistical outlier.”

“Divestment would lead to monetary losses” by the New York pension fund, Moreau said.

Environmentalist Bill McKibben, whose book “The End of Nature” was one of the earliest on global warming 25 years ago, told the forum via Skype that 2015 was the warmest year on record and 2016 is already “crushing” that record. It’s “an ever accelerating crisis,” he said.

The summer sea ice is mostly gone from the arctic, the oceans off Montauk and everywhere else are 30 percent more acidic, that there’s already “a whipsawing climate” between drought and flood, McKibben said. The fuel companies and their investors are major players in the political system, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to get their way with government policy and protect their wealth, he said.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, trustee of the $178.3 billion fund for public workers, recently joined with other investors in a shareholder resolution calling on ExxonMobil to assess the effect on the company and its oil and gas reserves of meeting a 2-degree cap on global warming this century as recently supported in an accord by 195 nations. The fund has about $1 billion invested.

“Given the significant impacts of fossil fuel companies on the economy and the environment, it would not be prudent to disengage from this entire industry,” DiNapoli spokesman Matt Sweeney said. DiNapoli and the fund “are aggressively engaged in building a low-carbon economy through investments and by changing corporate behavior,” he said.

The Comptroller’s Office reports filing 41 shareholder proposals over the last five years calling on companies to assess their climate change risks and strategies for addressing those risks.

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