FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 26, 2016
Contact: Austin Davis, 350Vermont, [email protected] 802-370-0408
Vermont House Passes Resolution Urging State to
Divest from Coal Companies and ExxonMobil
Environmental Groups Say Decision Has Widespread Implications for
Increasing the Success of International Movement to Divest out of Fossil Fuels
MONTPELIER -- A bold statement by the Vermont House of Representatives -- calling for Vermont’s pension funds to divest from coal and ExxonMobil -- was applauded today by the state’s major environmental groups working on divestment from fossil fuels.
A resolution passed by the House today urges State Treasurer Beth Pearce and the Vermont Pension Investment Committee (VPIC) to lay out a process to divest the pension funds of all companies with coal holdings. It also calls for VPIC to divest out of all ExxonMobil stocks. VPIC oversees approximately $4 billion in the state retirement systems for teachers and state and municipal employees.
“We are glad that the Vermont House has clearly communicated a directive to VPIC to divest from risky fossil fuel investments,” said Maeve McBride, coordinator of 350Vermont. “Divestment will protect state retirees, employees, and teachers from the looming carbon bubble and the wildly fluctuating fossil fuel sector.”
The Vermont Senate is also considering action on divestment from coal and ExxonMobil, which Gov. Peter Shumlin supports. Both houses of the General Assembly have been considering the issue.
"As a former Vermont Secretary of State, and therefore a pensioner, I am so proud to see our Legislature leading as we did in breaking Apartheid,” said Don Hooper, a former House member who lead Vermont to divest from companies doing business in South Africa in 1985. “Bravo to the House for taking a stand against Big Oil. Never have I been so confident that Vermont will do well financially by doing the right, prudent thing."
The House resolution states that coal and other fossil fuels are responsible for substantial and dangerous carbon pollution that has caused climate change, thereby “increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” Vermont’s divestment resolution follows a similar decision by the State of California to divest its state pensions from coal stocks, but goes further to include one of the largest climate offenders. The resolution notes that Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company, is “under investigation in several states for deliberately misleading the public and investors about the risks of climate change.”
The ExxonMobil provision drew special notice from Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org.
'Vermont's leadership in singling out ExxonMobil will echo loudly. This is the first legislative body to join the attorneys general of New York and California in understanding the depth of the deception the company engaged in, and the stakes for the planet,” said McKibben, a Ripton resident, author and one of the world’s leading advocates for action to stem climate change.
Gov. Peter Shumlin has recently been a vocal supporter of having the state pension fund divest from coal and ExxonMobil, joining advocates and socially responsible Vermont businesses who have led the effort.
"Staying invested in fossil fuels is betting on the failure of all the work being done to slow global warming," said Ben Edgerly Walsh, Climate and Energy Program Director for VPIRG. "We look forward to working with the Treasurer and VPIC to find a path to the divestment the House called for today."
“It makes no sense for Vermont to combat the disastrous environmental and economic effects of climate change while also continuing to invest money in the companies causing this damage,” said Daniel Barlow, public policy manager with Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. “VBSR is thankful that the Vermont House recognizes that investing in coal and Exxon-Mobil is bad for our planet and bad for the financial stability of the pension funds. We look forward to working with the governor, the state treasurer, and the Legislature to remove these poor investments from our portfolio.”
The Vermont Governor visited VPIC at their regular monthly meeting Tuesday to vocalize his concerns and call for a process towards “getting to yes.” The same day, VPIC voted to create a subcommittee to further examine divestment.
These processes could lead to yet another divestment in a worldwide movement. During the UN climate talks in December, it was announced that over 500 institutions representing more than $3.4 trillion in assets under management had committed to some level of divestment.
“The Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club is looking forward to ensuring that VPIC engages in an open and transparent process to advance divestment of coal and eventually all fossil fuel holdings,” said Robb Kidd, Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club’s Conservation Program Manager. “This vote today demonstrates a recognition that as a state we should not be propping up through our investments the very same companies that are contributing to climate change.”
Coal stocks have plummeted and many companies have filed for bankruptcy. There has been growing momentum for full divestment, as well, as renewable energy has gained cost efficiency over fossil fuels and Fossil Free Indexes have outperformed conventional markets. Leaders from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to World Bank President Jim Kim have commended the divestment movement for the impact it has having on the economic and political discussion about how to address the climate crisis.
“Thank you to the numerous legislators who understand that investing in coal is not being fiscally responsible to any Vermonter. Supporting coal is a vote for the continued destruction of our fisheries, forests, and waters, but most of all the personal well-being of Vermont women and children,” said James Ehler, Executive Director of Lake Champlain International. “On behalf of thousands of forward-thinking Vermonters, thank you, again, for demonstrating true leadership by example.”
About 350Vermont: 350Vermont is a statewide organization in Vermont working to build a grassroots movement to reverse climate change. 350Vermont’s mission is to catalyze the cultural and systemic transformation needed to reverse climate change and return to 350 ppm of carbon in the atmosphere. Although we are an affiliated group of 350.org with a similar mission, 350VT is an independent organization, with local campaigns to divest the state pension fund, advocate for a carbon pollution tax, and stop any expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.
About Vermont Chapter of Sierra Club: The Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club is a volunteer-led affiliate of the national Sierra Club. The Sierra Club is America's largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.1 million members and supporters nationwide and 9,000-plus members and supporters in Vermont. The Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation.
About Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility: Founded in 1990, VBSR is a statewide, non-profit business association with a mission to advance a business ethic that values multiple bottom lines: economic, social, and environmental. Through education, public influence, and workplace quality, VBSR strives to help 760+ members set a high standard for protecting the natural, human, and economic environments of the state's residents, while remaining profitable. Learn more or join the cause at www.vbsr.org.
About Bill McKibben: Bill McKibben is an author, environmentalist and co-founder of 350.org, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement. He is a Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as the distinguished recipient of the 2014 Right Livelihood Prize winner, 2013 Gandhi Prize and the Thomas Merton Prize, and 18 honorary degrees from colleges and universities. McKibben is a former staff writer for the New Yorker, and continues to write frequently for a wide variety of publications around the world, such as the New York Review of Books, National Geographic, and Rolling Stone.
About Lake Champlain International: Lake Champlain International (LCI) is a federally recognized 501(c)(3) non-profit organization actively involved in shaping the future of Lake Champlain's water and fisheries health for the well-being of the people who depend on it today and tomorrow. To protect, restore, and revitalize Lake Champlain and its communities, LCI educates, advocates, and motivates to ensure that Lake Champlain is swimmable, drinkable, and fishable, understanding that healthy water resources are essential for a healthy economy and a healthy community.