NYC pensions must be free from fossil fuel money, advocates say

An increasing number of companies, governments and individuals are taking their investment money out of fossil fuel companies, according to a report released Monday, and advocates want New York City to follow suit.

The annual report, which was released by the Divest-Invest network of green nonprofits, found that 688 institutions, such as philanthropies and pension funds, and more than 58,000 people around the world divested $5 trillion in assets this year.

That is a jump from the 436 institutions and 2,000 who divested $2.6 trillion in September 2015.

The city’s five pension funds, however, still invest more than half a billion dollars in fossil fuels, according to 350, one of the divestment groups involved in the report. Lindsay Meiman, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit, said her group and other environmentalists will testify at the city’s pension board hearing Thursday to advocate for change.

“Despite having released this report three years in a row in New York City, and climate change being an immediate existential threat for our communities, New York remains heavily invested in fossil fuel companies,” she said.

The city’s employee retirement system has $251 million invested in Exxon Mobil and $140 million invested in Chevron, while the teacher’s retirement system fund has $87 million worth of investments in Exxon, according to the report. Although investments represent roughly .3 percent of pension funds’ combined $170.8 billion worth, 350 said that money is still significant.

The group also added that putting taxpayer dollars into those companies could have negative effects for city employees. A 350 report released in February found that the teacher’s retirement fund lost $135 million from stock investments in oil and gas last year.

Monday’s report noted that several cities around the world, including Sydney and Washington D.C., recently divested their pensions from oil and coal companies.

Each of the city pension funds has its own board of trustees that decides where the assets are allocated. Four of the boards include the mayor and City Comptroller Scott Stringer as members.

Tyrone Stevens, a Stringer spokesman, said the city has made progress in divesting from coal and will continue to place more of its money in environmentally friendly businesses.

“Climate change isn’t just scientific fact — it’s one of the greatest risks to people, the planet, and our pension fund beneficiaries,” he said in a statement.

City Councilman Costa Constantinides, who chairs the environmental protection committee, was also in favor of fossil fuel divestment, citing the uncertain future of progressive federal action under President-elect Donald Trump.

“With an incoming presidential administration which has appointed a climate change denier as EPA leader, it’s up to local governments and institutions to lead the way on protecting our environment,” he said in a statement.