New York pension move from oil and gas draws grassroots praise

People power still works, voices from the advocacy community say after New York signals its intent to divest from fossil fuels.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  Dec. 20, 2017 at 5:42 AM
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Dec. 20 (UPI) -- While some U.S. political trends are diverging from public opinion, environmentalists said it was people power that led to New York divesting from fossil fuels.

Advocacy group 350.org said its activism over the years helped convince New York state leaders to step away from fossil fuels.

"This victory is a direct result of people power and years-long pressure for New York to divest from fossil fuel companies causing climate change," Betámia Coronel, a coordinator for reinvestment for the group, said in an emailed statement.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said part of his 2018 agenda was divesting the state's retirement fund from significant fossil fuel investments. Through work with the state comptroller, the governor's office said they'd work to establish an advisory committee to find the best options for reinvestment in clean technology and other opportunities that could contribute to the fight against climate change.

The state retirement fund is valued at about $200 billion and is, as of now, heavily invested in fossil fuels. This year, it listed holdings in more than 50 oil and gas companies and has nearly $1 billion alone invested in Exxon Mobil.

"New York has made incredible strides in securing a clean energy future for this state with our nation-leading clean energy standard, offshore wind development, and aggressive investment in the clean tech economy, yet the common fund remains heavily invested in the energy economy of the past," the governor said in an emailed statement. "Moving the common fund away from fossil fuel investments will protect the retirement savings of New Yorkers."

For the advocacy community, the announcement follows the Senate passage of a Republican tax bill that includes provisions for drilling for oil and gas in Arctic regions of Alaska and permanent cuts to the corporate tax rate. A September survey from the Pew Research Center found that only a quarter of those interviewed told pollsters corporations should get a break.

For New York, the state ranks 11th in the nation in terms of installed wind energy capacity and is the 15th windiest. In October, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state is working to set itself up as the "global hub" for wind energy.

A clean energy mandate in New York states that renewable energy should account for half of the installed capacity on the state grid by 2030.

Cuomo's call mirrors recent developments elsewhere in the world. The World Bank announced last week it would no longer fund exploration and production for oil or natural gas after 2019. In November, Norway's central bank said in a letter to the Norwegian Ministry of Finance it was recommending the removal of oil and gas stocks from the benchmark Government Pension Fund Global, arguing that it would make Norwegian government wealth less exposed to a "permanent drop in oil and gas prices."

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