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

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