‹ All Blog Posts

May 17, 2017

VIDEO: Divestment Advocates in NYC Get a Big No from the Comptroller

This week, divestment advocates in New York City gather for a Climate, Jobs and Justice Accountability Forum – an event co-sponsored by 350.org and DivestInvest to bring attention to divestment and two other actual environmental issues in New York, building efficiency and trash disposal.  While Mayor DeBlasio backed out of the event last minute, Public Advocate for the City of New York Tish James and New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer did provide brief remarks and Q&A at the event. While both speakers provided some shaky remarks of the role of energy development in powering our world, one thing was clear: New York is not divesting from fossil fuels anytime soon.

Comptroller Stringer was quick to flag New York’s effort to divest from coal and the recently announced Carbon Footprint Analysis underway in the office, but he pushed back on calls to divest from broader energy production.  When asked if he’d commit to divestment, Stringer emphasized his responsibility to thousands of New York retirees. From the remarks:

“When I was a borough president I divested from guns. In fact, most of the divesting in this town has come from me. But it’s not just me. When you make a divestment decision you have to go through the fiduciary lens of our retirement system and our retirees. I commend our retirees for being here, but I don’t just represent the couple of dozen that are here, I actually represent 715,000 who depend on us for their retirement security.”

The Comptroller continued, highlighting his fiduciary duty to the city and pensioners:

Only difference between many of you and me is that I have a fiduciary responsibility. I owe it to our union and brothers and sisters. In the meantime, others there are some people who say wait a minute, don’t divest stay and fight those companies, others say that will take too long, others say if you divest the big companies like Exxon wouldn’t even notice. I happen to take it differently.  I think we have a number tools and we should use every tool at our disposal. I understand that people want to divest, but I have to come back to you with the real knowledge of what we can do but I’ll also be honest with you to tell you what we can’t do. I owe it to you, but I also owe it to the woman who struggles on the small pension, the mother who I taking care of her kids, the dad who was a coal miner.”

Stringer also emphasized the role of workers in supporting an industry, and what divestment might mean for them:

“Part of what we should think about in addition to our rallies in protest is to say if we were to divest – well we did we divested from coal and it made a big statement in this country – but we also need to think about the worker. Because when you divest from a coal mine, someone is going to be unemployed. It’s called just transition.”

While divesting does not directly impact companies, Stringer is right that the symbolic nature of demonizing the energy industry that 350.org and others put forth forgets the role of workers supporting the industries that enable us to keep our lights on and cook our food.  The University of Denver made a similar point in its rejection of divestment this winter, stating:

“A strategy of industry stigmatization drives a wedge between the University of Denver and the fossil fuel companies that represent an important part of the economic base of Colorado and the nation. Equally important, stigmatizing fossil fuel companies inherently involves stigmatization of their employees as well. As a general matter, the panel believes that stigmatizing individuals based upon a career choice to work for an employer engaged in a lawful enterprise is inappropriate.”

The Comptroller also emphasized the city’s efforts to conduct a Carbon Footprint Analysis to better understand its fossil fuel holdings and understand the impacts of divestment. He was quick to correct calls from the audience that Seattle, Washington had divested from fossil fuels — an incorrect statement — while noting he is interested in bank divestment. From his remarks:

“We are now looking at our carbon footprint, because believe it or note we don’t really know what we actually have because no one wanted to study it. We’re going to have to spend some time. You can’t just pull a switch and pull $2 billion dollars…No Seattle didn’t {divest}, Seattle did not divest the pension money. No they did not. Seattle pulled the banking money out and I think we should contemplate that with Wells Fargo.”

These comments from Comptroller Stringer are just another example of New York’s opposition to costly divestment.