Environmental groups call on state to divest fossil fuel holdings

Rep. Kesha Ram, D-Burlington, joined climate activists at the Statehouse on Friday to call for fossil fuel divestment in the state's pension investment funds. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Rep. Kesha Ram, D-Burlington, joined climate activists at the Statehouse on Friday to call for fossil fuel divestment in the state’s pension investment funds. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

The group 350vt.org and other citizen climate activists hosted a news conference at the Statehouse on Thursday to urge lawmakers to divest state pension holdings in fossil fuel companies.

Lawmakers have two proposals to divest the state’s pension funds from fossil fuels. H.271 and S.131 would require the Vermont Pension Investment Committee (VPIC) to divest from companies that extract, produce or refine fossil fuels.

“Vermont is investing in the fossil fuels that are at the root of climate change. At the same time, we are spending state dollars to combat it,” said Rep. Kesha Ram, D-Burlington, a sponsor of the House bill.

Both bills are in their respective committees on Government Operations. The House bill has more than two dozen sponsors.

Vermont’s economy, including the skiing, maple syrup and agricultural industries, could be harmed by climate change, she said.

“So the question is not how we can afford to divest from fossil fuels, but how can we afford not to?” she said.

As of Dec. 31, the Vermont Pension Investment Committee, which manages the retirement funds for state employees and teachers, had about $3.6 billion in assets, according to the treasurer’s office.

About $88 million of the state’s pension holdings are invested in the energy sector, which includes coal, oil and gas companies, the treasurer’s office said.

State Treasurer Beth Pearce proposed offering a fossil-free mutual fund investment option for state employees. The Vermont State Employees’ Retirement System Board of Trustees approved the plan this month, Pearce’s office said.

John Herrick

Comments

  1. Kathy Nelson :

    What gives these people the right to attack the stability of the retirement system that hard working Vermonters have paid into for years? I don’t think a bunch of McKibbenite groupies have the faintest idea what their doing or talking about. It’s very doubtful that even one of them has divorced themselves from using any item that is manufactured from fossil fuels, from the dye in their chinese-made t-shirts (how did those get transported to the US store?) to the plastic in the glasses some of them, in the photo, are wearing. When the 350 cultists start practicing what they are trying shove down everyone else’s throat then maybe they might be listened to. How could Rep. Ram be so suckered by these deluded followers of jet-setting Billy McKibben?

    • Char Kennedy :

      Once again 350.org is taking the right stand. Divesting in South Africa is how people from many places brought an end to Apartheid in South Africa. Divesting in fossil fuels is something we should all do. There are lots of other investments to make which do not destroy the life sustaining qualities of the earth that we all need for living to use our investments.

  2. “Vermont’s economy, including the skiing, maple syrup and agricultural industries, could be harmed by climate change, she said.”

    Here is a video of VPIRG’s Ben Walsh testifying to House Energy & Natural Resources committee that eve if the entire US stopped emitting all CO2 tomorrow, the effect on the trajectory of climate change would be nil. http://youtu.be/2KIUIDTOrXs

    Here’s a video of Vermont Climate Scientist Allen Betts admitting that even under the best of circumstances (which we are not attaining) Vermont’s climate will be like that of Pennsylvania by the end of the century. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hE8jr1l5hg

    So, saying we’re divesting of fossil fuel investments, or ruining our ridge lines with wind towers, or any anti-climate change measure to “save the ski and maple industries for Vermont” is really a fraudulent sales tactic.

    Would be nice if our elected officials stopped lying to us about what their own scientists and experts are telling them is happening and what is possible.

  3. Paul Lorenzini :

    They are saving the planet by destroying peoples savings! What a bunch of heroes!

  4. Jane Palmer :

    Whoa, whoa, whoa…I didn’t read anything about taking away people’s savings. I interpreted their suggestion to be that maybe it would be a good idea to take the money away from those industries that have been operating irresponsibly. From what I have read, the way things are looking…it would be wise to divest from fossil fuels anyway…regardless of whether or not you believe in climate change or not. There are other places to invest funds that would have a safer and more lucrative return. Why do people think that oil and gas are the only way to go? Maybe it’s because they have swallowed the Kool-aid the gas and oil industry has provided??

    • Glenn Thompson :

      Jane Palmer states, “There are other places to invest funds that would have a safer and more lucrative return.”

      Jane, are you an investor??? Do you follow specific industries and sectors? Learn future trends of specific industries? Sure, there could be specific areas that *could* outperform fossil fuels investments, but more likely many sectors would not out perform fossil fuel industries since the projected worldwide demand for Fossil Fuels will continue to rise. FYI, my investment portfolios contains a % of Fossil Fuel companies because they are safe and pay a damn good dividend.

      On the other hand, I also follow the green energy sector. For example, the 2-3 dozen Green Energy stocks I followed starting a decade ago, have either gone out of business or are now penny stocks.

      The point I’m attempting to make here is….let the ‘experts’ manage pension funds, etc, and not pass silly laws based on politics and emotions! No successful investor has ever made money on investments based on emotions.

  5. Alex Prolman :

    There are many studies that now show divestment from fossil fuels does not hurt an average portfolio’s risk or return rates. This proposal will not put anyone’s pension at risk. (A few studies even show slightly better returns as a result of fossil fuel divestment.) I can provide links if folks are interested.

    Given that initial safeguard– “No, don’t worry, it will not jeopardize the stability of your investments” — the main reason to divest from fossil fuels is simple and powerful:

    Energy is a market dominated by political power more so than competition, and fossil fuel companies bully governments (read: taxpayers) around the world to give them almost $2T annually in subsidies, despite the global consensus to try to quit using fossil fuels as fast as we can. These corporations have our political leaders spellbound, and no meaningful action around our energy supply will happen unless fossil fuel companies are recognized for the out-of-control parasites they are.

    One of the great things about divestment is that it has a real-world pragmatism that goes beyond simply doing the right thing. It also has serious political impacts. Divestment as a tool to create social change has a proven history of success–almost 100% of the time, a successful divestment campaign has brought about restrictive legislation in some form.

    A small commitment on our behalf (e.g. “We will be fully divested from 200 fossil fuel companies by 2020″) should have nothing but positive impacts on our well-being. Pension funds will be fine, Vermont’s green economy will start to *really* flourish as energy subsidies are redirected to sustaining local jobs rather than multinational corporations, and we’ll have a significantly better chance of passing on a planet with predictable weather patterns to today’s youth when the time comes.

    There is no substantive reason not to divest from fossil fuels.

  6. Kathy Blume :

    Thanks Alex. It’s not about destroying peoples’ savings at all. It’s just about shifting the investment portfolios away from the fossil fuel industry. No different than shifting investment portfolios away from companies which did business in apartheid-era South Africa.

    And, actually, when it comes to climate change, we do know what we’re talking about. And one of the things we know is that all the systems of our lives – such as food, transportation, manufacturing, energy, economy – are all completely dependent on fossil fuels. Which is why plastic glasses and t-shirts from China (for all of us) are so easy to come by.

    We all make the best individual choices we can within a highly flawed system, and we work to change the system as fast as we can.

    But don’t get so sidelined by details (which are indeed important) that you miss out on the larger reality that climate change is real, it’s accelerating rapidly, and it’s something that, like it or not, we are all going to have to deal with.

    • 360 vtorg and Bill McKibbens are protesting against Vt.Gas , however it is OK to
      destroy the Vermont Mountain Tops for Wind. Please refer to EPA stuidy and ruling
      shortly on wood burning for heat. You might need natural gas or a candle in your window.

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