March 12, 2020

Pandemic & market crash escalates urgency of New York State divestment fight

New analysis from shows the New York State Common Retirement Fund lost over $850 million on just 18 fossil fuel stocks this year, total losses likely far greater 

Albany, NY — The recent plunge in oil stocks is costing New York retirees hundreds of millions of dollars because of Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s refusal to divest the New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF) from fossil fuels, according to new analysis by

The analysis of just 18 tar sands and fracking companies reveal that the fund lost more than $850 million in the past year. The companies had been valued at $2.8 billion last March. The fund’s investment in ExxonMobil has been halved, dropping by more than $400 million. The numbers add a sense of urgency to global momentum of the divestment movement, as well as  the fossil fuel divestment push unfolding in the State Legislature this session. 

“New York State’s pension fund is bleeding – unnecessarily. The volatility and toxicity of the fossil fuel sector is only increasing, and workers and taxpayers are paying the price,” said Dominique Thomas, New Yorker and organizer. “While we’re hopeful for a market rebound, this is far from the final storm for this sunsetting industry. The financially responsible thing to do is to swiftly` pass legislation for a comprehensive divestment plan, and mobilize New York’s economy toward a just Green New Deal.”

This comes days before New Yorkers head to Albany to lobby for the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act next Tuesday, March 17.

In December, State Senator Liz Krueger, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and Assembly Assistant Speaker Félix W. Ortiz introduced a revised version of their Fossil Fuel Divestment Act (S.2126-A/A.1536-A). In recent weeks, the bill has picked up a significant number of supporters and now has 31 Senate supporters, one away from a majority, and 45 Assembly Member supporters. 

“The best time to divest would have been several years ago, but the second best time is now,” said New York State Senator Liz Krueger. “Oil, coal, and gas are not coming back, there are no boom times ahead. Instead, we are looking at a certain decline, and the only question is how much time we have before the bottom falls out. The Comptroller’s own Decarbonization Advisory Panel concluded that it is better to get out too early than too late. I continue to urge the Comptroller to heed that advice, and protect our current and future retirees by beginning the process of responsibly divesting from fossil fuel producers.”

New Yorkers launched the demand for Comptroller DiNapoli to divest from fossil fuels in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy over seven years ago, underscoring both the financial and climate risks of continuing to invest in oil, gas, and coal companies. A 2018 study by Corporate Knights concluded that the NYSCRF would be an estimated $22.2 billion richer if the Comptroller divested from fossil fuels ten years ago. Since that study, pensioners have missed out on hundreds of millions of dollars of potential returns because of Comptroller DiNapoli’s failure to act.

“Oil and gas is leading a massive market decline. The state’s already lost $22 billion by not divesting relative to benchmarks, and more of the public’s money is disappearing as Comptroller DiNapoli slowly reviews a couple dozen coal companies. We need more climate and fiscal leadership now,” said Pete Sikora, climate and inequality campaigns director with New York Communities for Change. 

This January, however, DiNapoli tiptoed towards divestment with an announcement that he would be reviewing whether to divest $98 million from 27 coal different coal companies that generate at least 10% of their revenue from thermal coal. Since then, coal stocks have continued their decline in value and declaring bankruptcy, costing retirees millions.

Meanwhile, major financial institutions have started to cut ties with fossil fuels. In January, BlackRock announced it would make climate central to its investment strategy and drop its coal holdings. In recent weeks, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, RBS, JP Morgan Chase, and UBS announced they would no longer fund new oil and gas development in the Arctic. Advocates are quick to note that while the announcements represent an important shift in the market, none of these commitments go far enough to address the climate emergency. 

Universities and various institutions have continued to make new divestment commitments, as well. In February, Georgetown University announced it would be divesting from fossil fuels. In the United Kingdom, both the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Jesuits, the UK’s largest Catholic religious order, announced they would be dropping their oil, gas and coal holdings. To date, nearly 1200 institutions representing more than $14 trillion in assets have committed to some level of divestment. 

Thomas added, “This could have been prevented if DiNapoli had listened to New Yorkers’ divestment demand at any point over the last seven years. While the Trump administration is attempting to bail out fossil fuel companies, we’re demanding polluters be held accountable.”


Contact: Lindsay Meiman, [email protected], +1 (347) 460-9082