Youth Urge Lawmakers to Divest Vermont Pension from Fossil Fuels
[Montpelier, VT] Today, more than sixty high school students, college students, and Vermont community members convened at the Statehouse to voice their support for the divestment of the state pension funds from the worst 200 coal, oil, and gas companies. The Youth Day of Action ran in conjunction with hundreds of Global Divestment Day events happening across the world, each calling on universities, foundations, faith organizations, municipalities, banks, and states to divest from fossil fuels. Young Vermonters concerned about climate change attended workshops on divestment, persuasive writing, and civic engagement. Students spoke at the legislative Climate Caucus and gave testimony at the Senate Committee on Government Operations.
“I have been personally impacted by the destructive products of fossil fuel companies, and have borne witness to the destruction energy extraction has on the environment,” said Francesca Hall, a senior at the University of Vermont and founder and chair of the Vermont Student Climate Coalition. “We will continue to experience a higher frequency and stronger intensity of natural phenomena if we do not curb the use of these deadly energy sources immediately.”
More than $100 million of the Vermont State Pension is currently invested in fossil fuels. The pension funds are controlled by the Vermont Pension Investment Committee (VPIC), a seven-member committee including Treasurer Beth Pearce and representatives from the Vermont State Employees Retirement System (VSERS), the Vermont State Teachers Retirement System (VSTRS), and the Vermont Municipal Employees Retirement System (VMERS). The pension funds can be divested either by VPIC vote or legislative mandate.
“The continuation of [fossil fuel] investments is contrary to the fiduciary responsibility of the fund administrators to act prudently in the selection of investments,” former VSEA president Ed Stanak told legislators at the Climate Caucus. Stanak warned lawmakers that when the carbon bubble bursts, “the effects of such a body blow to the pension fund will reverberate not only across pension funds for teachers and municipal employees, as well as other institutional investors, but the Vermont economy as a whole.”
Fourteen legislators listened to student testimony at the Climate Caucus. Representative Chris Pearson thanked students for being politically active, reminding them that youth “don’t know how much power [youth] have in our little legislature. Go find your legislator. We need your help to push this over the finish line.” Mary Hooper urged students to “continue speaking in a loud voice.”
Legislators at the Climate Caucus then invited students to sit in the House Chamber Room. While in the Chamber, students were applauded for their enthusiasm and work.
Following the Climate Caucus and House session, the Senate Committee on Government Operations heard a strong case for divestment. Committee members heard testimony from Goddard College President Robert Kenny, CEO of Trillium Asset Management Matthew Patsky, CIO of Clean Yield Asset Management Eric Becker, Vermont Commons School student Nora Hill, and Montpelier High School student Isabelle Francke. All speakers urged lawmakers to pass bill S.28, sponsored by Senators Anthony Pollina and David Zuckerman, which calls for pension divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies in the next 5 years.
“I am 18 years old and terrified how climate change is destroying our planet,” said Nora Hill, a senior at Vermont Commons School.
In Patsky’s opinion, divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies is a conservative first step. “It actually is!” Patsky said, “We typically divest from all exposure to traditional energy, which is a much broader list. [350.org has] made it easy. They’ve made it simple.”