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Krueger, Ortiz Announce Fossil Fuel Divestment Act

WAMC photocomposite by Dave Lucas

A broad coalition of lawmakers and environmental, faith and community organizations have joined forces to urge the New York State Comptroller to take action to fight climate change.

The worldwide push for government entities to drop investments in fossil fuels comes home to roost in the Empire State:  this week New York legislators, led by Senator Liz Krueger, introduced the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, which would require Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to divest the Common Retirement Fund’s holdings in the top 200 fossil fuel companies by 2020.    "Divesting from fossil fuel stocks doesn't solve the problem, but it sends a huge message that government and its citizens should not be investing in the type of fuel that we know increase the problems we face rather than decrease and reverse the outcome of climate change."

The bill contains a “safety valve,” similar to successful divestment bills passed in other states, that would permit the Comptroller to cease divestment if he can convincingly demonstrate that the fund has lost significant value as a direct result of fossil fuel divestment.

Krueger concedes divestment is not a silver bullet, but it is one important step among many.

Assistant Speaker Felix Ortiz is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly.   "Reducing our reliances on fossil fuel is certainly one of the keys to reducing greenhouse gases. And climates change, the scientists believe, cause extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy."

The measure is embraced by leading environmentalists and celebrity-advocates.

Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary took to YouTube to explain why he supports the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act.  "That divestment alone will not produce the result that we want, but I'm telling you, that it will send a signal to everybody across the natiuon, that this is not only not viable, in terms of climate change; it's not viable in terms of having money in pension systems, because thay are not going to sustain their value. When it becomes apparent that there is a carbon crisis, and we have to alter it, at that point, with all that money invested, it's going to be too late."

Environmentalist  and Green Education and Legal Fund Chair Mark Dunlea weighs in:    "As the Pope stated, we have to stop allowing the profits of the fossil fuel industry to override the need to protect the well-being of the rest of us. Fossil fuels are the new tobacco. The number of annual deaths in New York State due to air pollution from burning fossil fuels is now more than three-thousand. Fossil fuels are also an increasing risky investment as governments worldwide finally begin to admit we have to stop burning them. We need Tom DiNapoli as State Comptroller and sole trustee of the pension funds to do the right thing and agree to divest, either voluntarily, or through state legislation."

The bill includes a requirement that the comptroller identify all companies subject to divestment in which the CRF has holdings, and report annually on the progress of divestment from those companies.

Matthew Sweeney, DiNapoli's Assistant Communications Director, emailed a statement in response to a request for comment:  “We’re examining the legislation. Comptroller DiNapoli's fiduciary duty is to manage the pension fund’s investments to get the best possible return for its members. That’s why he continues to engage portfolio companies to address the risks that climate change poses to investments. Based on experience there may be more effective means than divestment to influence the behavior of portfolio companies and accomplish meaningful change.”  

Comptroller DiNapoli has been a leading voice among investors calling on companies to address the risks posed by climate change.

Organizations Supporting the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act:
Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter
Citizens Campaign for the Environment
Food & Water Watch
Citizen Action of NY
NYS Council of Churches
Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy
Catskill Mountainkeeper
Citizens Environmental Coalition of NY
Fossil Free & Green NY
Green Education and Legal Fund
Healthcare Without Harm
Jews Against Fracking
NY Interfaith Power & Lights
People for Animal Rights
Plan to Save the Planet, Albany
Renewable Energy Long Island
Rochester People's Climate Coalition
Syracuse Cultural Workers
Syracuse Peace Council

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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