At Rally before the Hearing, Hundreds Call for Divestment of New York City’s Pension Fund from Fossil Fuels
New York, NY — Experts and speakers ranging from economists, youth and faith leaders, indigenous rights activists, Superstorm Sandy survivors, and advocates thanked NYC Public Advocate Letitia James for organizing Wednesday’s public hearing on climate action and made their message loud and clear: It is past time for New York City’s pension funds to divest from fossil fuel companies. The NYC Pension Funds have more than $3 billion in oil, gas, and pipeline companies, like Exxon, Chevron, and TransCanada.
The hearing was held one month after thousands of New Yorkers marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to commemorate the 5th anniversary of Superstorm Sandy and call for real climate action from New York City and State, including fossil fuel divestment, adequately meeting ongoing needs in the hardest hit neighborhoods, applying pivotal lessons to plan for future climate disasters, and aggressively transitioning to a fully renewable economy. Over 150 local, state, and national organizations, with strong representation from neighborhoods impacted by the storm, led the march.
At today’s public hearing, over 50 speakers, some from as far away as Standing Rock and the Alberta tar sands region of Canada, put forward ample scientific, financial, and moral arguments for New York elected officials to divest from fossil fuels, as an essential means of mitigating the climate crisis.
Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, Executive Director of Indigenous Climate Action and a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation traveled from Northern Canada to deliver this message, “Communities like my own have been fighting to safeguard our lands and territories against dirty fossil fuel projects that poison our lands and water, impact our health and threaten our cultural survival. The rights and knowledge of Indigenous communities has been internationally recognized by the United Nations and the Paris Agreement, yet our rights are continually violated by these projects. Together we can make an immediate difference for communities like mine, communities along the pipeline corridor and for future generations if we take the necessary steps now to divest from fossil fuels and uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples.”
Just before the hearing, over 100 people rallied outside the Borough of Manhattan Community College calling for New York City to lead on climate, starting with immediate divestment of New York City’s pension funds. Frontline activists spoke to the impacts of climate change and fossil fuel extraction on their communities. New York advocates specifically called on Comptroller Stringer to be the climate champion he says he is and authorize divestment immediately.
Michael Johnson, a member of New York Communities for Change and a Sandy survivor said, “I lost everything when Sandy’s flood waters rose in my apartment in Coney Island. Five years later, it’s high time for New York City to take bold action to fight climate change. Rather than pouring billions of dollars into climate destruction by financing corporations such as Exxon and projects like the KeystoneXL pipeline, Comptroller Stringer and Mayor de Blasio should divest the city’s pension funds from fossil fuels. It’s great to see Public Advocate James shine a spotlight on this vital issue.”
New York City’s five pension funds have invested over $27 million in TransCanada, the energy corporation building the KeystoneXL pipeline. Just two weeks ago, over 210,000 gallons of oil leaked from the KeystoneXL pipeline, causing irreparable damage. In addition, more than $3 billion is invested in other fossil fuel and pipeline companies. The New York City Employee Retirement System (NYCERS) has $39 million in investments in the Kinder Morgan Pipeline and $87 million in the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Waniya Locke, Ahtna Dene, Dakota, Lakota and Anishinaabe tribes and a water protector from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, noted, “Water never resists, it flows. We can flow like water into morally decisions of our environment; boosting communities, creating social justice and preserving for future generations as we divest. We can be flowing into divestment as we Stand Up to care for one another. MNI WICONI-Water is life.”
Leaders at Standing Rock led the fight last year to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline project and continue to fight to protect the water source on their reservation that is endangered by oil flowing through the pipeline. The effort became a flashpoint last year that brought together indigenous leaders and activists across the nation.
Advocates stated that if New York City is really serious about being a climate champion in the wake of President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, they must stop paying lip service and do the work. That starts with withdrawing their investments in the very companies fueling the climate crisis.
Bill McKibben, the founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org and the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College said, “The immorality of investing in fossil fuels becomes more obvious with each passing year. From Sandy to Maria, New Yorkers have seen up close the effects of a planet whose basic systems have been damaged by the production of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel. Existing as it does just a few feet above sea level, New York has every reason to be a leader. Climate change is a timed test, and with each passing month our ability to combat it dwindles. We must act quickly, in the interest of a future that works for all of us.”
Dorian Fulvio of 350NYC said, “On October 28th, thousands of New Yorker’s gathered together to remember the lives lost and damage done to our City by Superstorm Sandy and demand that New York’s elected officials take strong action to fight climate change. NYC Public Advocate Letitia James has stepped forward to lead this challenge by hosting a Public Hearing on Climate Action on Wednesday, November 29th. We need swift and bold action on climate change at all levels of government and this is an important first step. As a member of 350NYC, we insist that NYC stop investing public pension funds in fossil fuel companies that threaten our City’s future by polluting our planet and causing climate change.”
Denise Patel from DivestInvest Network said, “We have a moral obligation to do all in our power to stop the climate crisis. If we do – we can save millions of lives. We can keep global temperature rise below 1.5C. We CAN advance a rapid and just transition to 100% renewable energy. But New York’s leaders must show the moral fortitude to reject the fossil fuel agenda that has put us in crisis. It’s past time for New York city to divest the pension fund and invest to build a climate safe future.”
Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of GreenFaith said, “The time is long past when it was morally acceptable to profit from the fossil fuel industry; it is no overstatement to say that this industry threatens the balance of life on Earth. In the name of life itself, we implore Mayor deBlasio, Comptroller Stringer, and the trustees of the Pension Boards to divest from fossil fuels and to reinvest in a 100% renewable energy future.”
Tom Sanzillo, Director of Finance, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, Former NY first deputy state comptroller said, “Investments in fossil fuels made a lot of money for New York City’s pension fund. This is no longer the case. The City and its pension funds have no choice but to act to protect themselves. Investments in fossil fuels today come wrapped in red flag warnings. The way forward is fossil free.”
Thomas Kuh, PhD, former Executive Director, MSCI said, “The divestment movement has helped focus attention on the contributions of oil, gas, and coal companies to climate change and the urgency of transitioning to a low carbon economy. It has also compelled many pension funds, foundations, and endowments to consider the potential risks of owning fossil fuel companies and opportunities associated with companies that provide solutions to climate change. This is a critical conversation in the absence of proactive public policy on climate.”
Carroll Muffett, President, Center for International Environmental Law said, “ExxonMobil and other major carbon producers face a rising tide of investigation and litigation in courts across the country and around the world—including by New York’s own Attorney General. This litigation poses growing risks not only for the carbon producers themselves, but for their investors—including the New York City Retirement System. New Yorkers should rightly ask why their public pension funds continue investing billions of dollars in the fossil fuels that are driving the climate crisis even as the financial, legal and public risks of those investments continue to mount.”
Victoria Fernandez, SunRise NYC said, “It’s time for cities like New York to fully divest from companies that are leaving our neighbors high and dry. With Trump pulling America out of the only international agreement to stop climate change, young people [in NYC] demand cities and states to have our backs and take real leadership on climate.”
David Levine, Executive Director, American Sustainable Business Council said, “More and more businesses understand the impact of climate change. All we need to do is look at the economic impact of Hurricane Sandy and now the over $90 billion of damage to Houston and another $90 billion in Puerto Rico. Our message for decision makers is to look at the full negative economic impacts of a fossil fuel economy. Responsible businesses call for pension funds, investors and legislators to transition investments and subsidies away from fossil fuels, and boost investment in clean economy solutions. Smart investment will enable us to protect the environment and our communities as we grow business and our economy.”
For more on the campaign to #DivestNY, visit: divestny.org
To watch the recording of the hearing, go here: https://livestream.com/BMCCMedia/publicadvocate/videos/166567057
Denise Patel, [email protected], 856-465-1211
Betámia Coronel, [email protected], 347-820-4699
Thanu Yakupitiyage, [email protected], 413-687-5160