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Divesting NYS Pension Fund from Fossil Fuels helps with Climate Crisis, say Local Elected Leaders

Local elected leaders from the state, city and town level are praising a decision to divest the New York State pension from companies that support the use of fossil fuels.  The landmark environmental announcement came from State Comptroller Tom DiNapoliWednesday. 

Manlius Town Councilor Katelyn Kriesel has been pushing the issue for years through the group Divest New York.  She says the move pushes companies that want the financial boost of pension investment to change practices that contribute to the climate crisis.

“These companies will be compelled to transition to a renewable energy economy.  And if they were to do so they would be allowed into the pension.  So, we are confident this will help transition these companies to a sustainable, renewable energy economy.”

Other elected officials, including Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh and Assembly Member Al Stirpe joined in celebrating the announcement.  State Senator Rachel May says the Comptroller would only make the move if it was also fiscally sound, since the pension fund supports hundreds of thousands of state retirees. 

“Investing is supposed to be working to the future and really creating a better future for the people who are beneficiaries of that investment.  And at the same time, if you’re supporting systems that are wrecking the future, that is completely counter to what investments should be about.”

The CLCPA law set up committees looking at best ways to reduce emissions in each of the sectors that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. 

May says this move is in line with the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act to reduce emissions. 

In his announcement, DiNapoli said the move will include assessing existing investments and making new ones that will have an impact on state climate goals.

“Achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 will put the Fund in a strong position for the future mapped out in the Paris Agreement. We continue to assess energy sector companies in our portfolio for their future ability to provide investment returns in light of the global consensus on climate change. Those that fail to meet our minimum standards may be removed from our portfolio. Divestment is a last resort, but it is an investment tool we can apply to companies that consistently put our investment’s long-term value at risk."

Common Councilor Joe Driscoll says it also discredits a myth that has hampered change on curbing fossil fuel use to limit climate change.

“So often we’ve made a false dichotomy between having economic prosperity or a healthy planet, and the two are mutually exclusive. I just love everything about this effort to really push back on that concept that we have to choose between making money and having a better planet to leave to our children.” 

They say this is the largest pension fund in the world to announce such divestment … and the first to do so in the United States.  DiNapoli has also said the pension fund will seek investments in alternative energy, transportation and other industries that help with a sustainable future. 

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.