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Green Candidate For NYS Comptroller Focusing On Climate Change

The Green Party candidate for New York comptroller, Mark Dunlea, says he isn’t in the race to win, but rather to highlight one key issue – combating climate change.

Dunlea, was the longtime director of Hunger Action Network, a lobby group that advocates for services for the poor. He now works for the environmental group 350.org, and he says if he were comptroller, he would immediately divest the state’s pension fund of all investments in fossil fuel companies.

“It’s morally wrong that we seek to profit from the destruction of the planet by keeping $6 to $11 billion in fossil fuel companies,” Dunlea said.

The state comptroller is the sole trustee of the state’s more than $200 billion pension fund, the largest in the nation, and is responsible for keeping it solvent and ensuring that the state’s over one million retirees get their monthly checks. Dunlea says he is potentially a beneficiary of the fund, because his wife, former EPA regional administrator Judith Enck, worked for state government under former Governor Eliot Spitzer.

He says he doesn’t think divesting of fossil fuel investments would harm retirees’ accounts, and might even strengthen the fund.

“Fossil fuel companies are no longer making money they used to make,” said Dunlea. “It’s not a long-term business plan if the world has said ‘we’re not using your product any longer’.”

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has said he prefers for now, to work within the system to encourage changes in the behavior of fossil fuel companies. Last December, DiNapoli and others including the Church of England pressured Exxon Mobil to agree to analyze how the Paris Agreement goals to reduce global warming might affect its business. DiNapoli said at the time that “investors have the power to hold corporations accountable” and to compel them to address climate concerns. DiNapoli, who is running for re-election, spoke about the issue in May 2017.

“The divestment movement is too simple a way to try to attack a very complex problem,” DiNapoli said.

The comptroller said it is “unrealistic” to think that if the pension fund were to sell all of its shares in a company like Exxon Mobil that the corporation would substantially change its ways or go out of business.

“It’s better that we have a seat at the table as a shareholder,” DiNapoli said at the time. 

President Trump pulled out of the Paris accord, but New York and several other states continue to adhere to the goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Dunlea was formerly on the board in his hometown of Poestenkill. He says though he’s a member of the Green Party, he considers himself a fiscal conservative, and he says he never voted to raise taxes. He says during his tenure the local taxes went down.

“I do not like wasting tax dollars,” said Dunlea, who said he’d also like to do more to fight corruption.

He says companies that donate large sums to political campaigns and also receive state contracts deserve greater scrutiny.

Dunlea says if he were the comptroller, he would be harder on the state budgets approved by the governor and legislature, and try to force them to adhere to a court order to fully fund schools.

But he says, in the end, his campaign is really about climate change.

“I want to win divestment,” said Dunlea, who says if the current comptroller rids the pension fund of fossil fuels companies, he would consider that a “victory.”

There is also a Republican candidate in the race, investment banker Jonathan Trichter.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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