With blows to major pipelines and oil assets, EOPNY calls on DiNapoli to Divest now — pensioners can’t wait

Press Release

For Immediate Release, July 14, 2020

Contact: Alexander Cornell du Houx, President of Elected Officials to Protect California, Cell: 207.319.4511

With blows to major pipelines and oil assets, EOPNY calls on DiNapoli to Divest now — pensioners can’t wait 

Hundreds of Elected Officials rally against the failing fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold – and push for a more just future 

In this moment of reckoning for the energy future of America, Elected Officials To Protect New York (EPONY) joins indigenous and front-lines organizers in celebrating recent victories over unjust and exploitative pipelines. With the tide of public opinion now clearly opposed to carbon emissions, andthe oil industry’s devastating reevaluations, EPONY says it’s time for New York state to divest. Hundreds of EPONY officials have already signed a letter that demands immediate divestment from the indefensible and irresponsible investment of taxpayer dollars in the failing fossil fuel industry. The NY legislature is moving to take action.

“I stand proudly with the 97 sponsors from the Assembly and Senate calling on New York to pass the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act (A.1536-A/S.2126-B) and request that it be taken up when we reconvene in July,” said New York Assistant Speaker Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, EOPA Council Member and veteran.

EOPNY urges Comptroller DiNapoli to take action and divest now, before the legislature forces the issue. The hardworking people of New York can’t wait; they’ve already lost 25 billion dollars from fossil fuel investments in the state pension fund.

Governor Andrew Cuomo back in 2017 expressed support for divestment, and still does. EOPNY is flummoxed by DiNapoli’s limited actions. While he did divest from the dying coal industry the pension fund is still invested in the oil/gas industry, which causes the majority of greenhouse gas emissions.

In a July 12 Times Union op-ed, Di Napoli claimed legislative action, “would threaten the independence of the comptroller’s office to make investment decisions solely in the interest of retirees, current and future.”

While his independence can be debated, those retirees cannot afford to wait for him to divest completely — too much of their hard earned money has already been lost. That surely has not been in their best interest.

“New York State pensions are intended to provide secure futures. The state should never gamble with them. But that’s exactly what’s happening in a high stakes game with New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli investing state workers’ retirement funds in the fossil fuel industry, already losing at least $25 billion,” said Albany County Legislator William Reinhard. “That’s unconscionable.”

We are at a tipping point. As Kelly Martin, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuel Campaign, has said, “A new era is upon us — one for clean energy, and one where the risks of fossil fuel infrastructure are increasingly exposed.” 

The 8 billion dollar Atlantic Coast Pipeline was abruptly canceled after years of pressure from indigenous groups and organizers. Dominion, the principal corporation behind the exploitative fracked-gas pipeline, jettisoned future projects like it, scrambling to distance itself from natural gas. The Dakota Access Pipeline, whose unjust population violated Native sovereignty, threatened public health, and was met with sweeping protest by Indigenous peoples like the Standing Rock Sioux, was handed a devastating ruling requiring it to run dry of oil by next month. A bid to restart construction on the Keystone XL Pipeline was utterly shut down. In light of these failures, the changing energy landscape, and the unacceptable fact that fossil fuel pipelines cause an explosion every 11 days and a fatality every 26 days in America, analysis by Bloomberg finds that, “U.S. pipelines are becoming increasingly unbuildable.” Worldwide, the downward spiral of fossil fuels worsened, as giants Shell and BP wrote off $40 billion of their assets as unrecoverable, a far cry from a once-militant optimism envisioning endless growth.  

 Two thirds of Americans believe current steps to combat the climate crisis or to protect our lands and waters are insufficient. The concurrent crises of COVID, mass unemployment, and racial justice uprisings are forcing the nation to reckon with the status quo. Elected Officials To Protect America knows we must reject ‘back to normal,’ and instead, build a better world. After all, the old one is already crumbling.  Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons put it plainest: “the facts have never been more clear: fracked gas has no role in our energy future.”

Powerful Indigenous, local organizers applied courageous and ceaseless pressure; Big Oil ultimately caved. Utility companies scrambled to distance themselves from volatile, exploitative extractive industries. This injustice is nothing new — only now the world is paying attention.

Back in 2012, our coalition of local elected officials pushed DiNapoli to divest NY pensions from FF corps, warning of the impending risk. The asset devaluations we foresaw are no longer vague threats or nightmares: for Shell and BP, they’re 40 billion dollar realities. The hardworking people of New York have already lost 25 billion dollars from fossil fuel investments.

“Currently, companies involved in the fossil fuel industry are at an even greater risk of losing value,”said New York Assistant Speaker Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, EOPA Council Member and veteran. “In combination with the negative impact fossil fuels have on the environment and climate, it’s time to divest now. New York can’t afford to wait.”

Elected Officials to Protect New York’s work successfully helped New York ban fracking, making history. Now we need to divest from fossil fuels once and for all, and put an end to the vicious cycle of exploitation and dependence. Now is the moment to change course, so that we can propel New York forward and ensure the future children deserve.

DiNapoli shouldn’t cost New York this opportunity to continue to lead, when across the nation, despite the insidious and constant influence of oil companies, Americans are mobilizing for change. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline which was newly approved by the Supreme Court, would have clearcut and blasted through precious, vulnerable landscapes, including Black, low-income, and indigenous communities, national forests, and 34 crossings of the iconic Appalachian Trail — is dead. It is an outcome that seemed impossible, brought about by fierce resistance from communities written off as expendable and growing evidence that fracked gas is a bad deal.

The historically Black community of Union Hill rose up against the insidiously unjust placement of a compressor statement in their culturally-rich town. A quarter of North Carolina’s Native population lived within a mile of the pipeline’s proposed path, and the Lumbee, Coharie, Haliwa-Saponi, and Meherrin Tribes organized for years to keep permits off their sovereign land. There was overwhelming local opposition, and a broad coalition of environmental groups with petitions hundreds of thousands strong The pipeline even drew high-profile opponents such as the Reverend William Barber II, National Board Member of the NAACP and former Vice President Al Gore, who called the whole affair a “reckless, racist rip-off.”

“They clearly were not concerned about the livelihoods, well-being and cultural and environmental significance of the places they would destroy on the way,” said Jenna Wadsworth, EOPA signatory, NC Soil and Water Supervisor, and nominee for NC Commissioner of Agriculture.

Yet even with eight permits unresolved and a massively bloated budget, it seemed that Dominion and Duke Energy would push ahead, aided and abetted by federal and state administrations. But as global fossil fuel assets went into free-fall and the court of public opinion demanded a shift to renewables, it was no longer certain they could recoup costs from ratepayers. That threat sent them running scared. The ACP was not abandoned because of the threat it posed to generations of cultural heritage, iconic landmarks like AT, and the public safety of vulnerable communities. Dominion jumped ship because constant pressure from dedicated organizers, seismic shifts in global markets and the court of public opinion threatened their profits. 

In New York, what is being threatened is nothing less than the hard-earned tax-dollars of citizens and the safe futures of our retirees. The evidence is only mounting that investment in fossil fuels is a bad deal fiscally as well as a bad deal for the planet. More major pipeline verdicts followed swiftly on the heels of the ACP’s cancellation. The Dakota Access Pipeline, a sprawling, leaking, affront to native sovereignty, was at last brought to a grinding halt. Courts ruled that it violated environmental standards, in a massive blow for the industry and a long-overdue victory for the Indigenous water defenders who have been on the front lines opposing it for years. The Keystone XL Pipeline, long stalled because of its woefully inadequate environmental protections, was dealt another blow despite the Trump Administration’s attempt to bolster it. 

Grassroots organizers, Indigenous leaders, and environmental groups tirelessly worked to upend the status quo. Unfortunately some officials elected to represent them often fought against them. In the midst of this crisis, Governor Newsom issued new fracking permits in California and the Trump administration moved to open massive tracts of Alaskan reserves to drilling. These high-profile victories came right after the financial and regulatory coronavirus relief from the Federal government gave oil companies big boons — despite the horrible irony that these polluting industries may have contributed to a higher death rate from the virus. 

In New York, our elected officials who are veterans, as well as front-line lawmakers from diverse backgrounds are listening to their communities. They hear the people’s mandate to act on the climate crisis. Now is the time to launch the transformation of our energy infrastructure and its unjust repercussions for our country’s most vulnerable.  We cannot afford to let our guard down — the cost to our state, and our planet will be too great. 

In the throes of crisis, a chorus of experts, scientists, policy-makers and economists alike, are calling for a transformation of our world. Where the ACP died state legislatures look to the promise of clean and plentiful energy from offshore wind farms. Where DAPL will soon sit, silent and empty, the US’ massive solar potential could light the western skies. Dozens of states have rolled out plans to phase out fossil fuel reliance. With growing oil volatility and our climate crisis, what was once easy money for the oil industry is now a massive liability. 

DiNapoli’s refusal to recognize that liability has already cost New Yorkers 25 billion dollars since 2008. The financial risk in continuing on this path is massive, above and beyond the fact that the fossil fuel industry incurs 4,000 deaths and $33 billion in health costs annually. Years of expert analysis support  divesting the Common Retirement Fund from fossil fuels, a move which research shows, if taken back in 2008, would have enriched pensioners by $22 billion by 2018, rather than incurring the current devastating losses. Delaying divestment is wasteful, reckless, and blatantly counter to the interests of those we are sworn to represent.  The evidence is clear; the fossil fuel era is ending. Elected Officials to Protect New York demands immediate action.

The mission of EOPA: To create a safe, prosperous, and healthy planet, we empower leadership from elected officials and civic leaders to protect our environment, and fight the climate crisis. As current and former elected officials who care deeply about protecting our planet and people from the dangers of climate change, EOPA educates through value-based storytelling, trains lawmakers, and connects elected officials to inspire strong environmental policy. Lawmakers who are veterans and elected officials lead our mission.