Pollina pushes governor on fossil fuel divestment

May 27, 2015
MONTPELIER — Sen. Anthony Pollina is calling on Gov. Peter Shumlin to take a leadership role in the state’s divestment of fossil fuel companies.


Pollina, who was elected as both a Democrat and Progressive in Washington County and has introduced legislation calling for the state to shed its investments in companies that profit from the creation of carbon emissions, is taking his case directly to the governor after the state signed an agreement last week to curb its fossil fuel use.

“If Vermont is serious about taking on climate change, we have to stop investing in fossil fuel companies and invest more in green industries,” Pollina said.

His call follows action last week by Shumlin, who joined a host of states, Canadian provinces and international municipalities in a pledge to make significant reductions in fossil fuel emissions, which nearly every climate scientist agrees are contributing to climate change.

However, Pollina said the action should be coupled with divestment of fossil fuel companies.

“It’s hard to take the administration’s climate pledge seriously when the state of Vermont is investing in companies responsible for the climate damage the administration says it opposes,” Pollina said. “It makes no sense to invest in something you oppose and you know threatens your climate and your economy.”

Fossil fuel investments within the state’s $4 billion pension portfolio total about $98 million, or a little less than 2.5 percent of the overall fund. The portfolio includes nearly $8 million invested in coal companies.

The Vermont Pension Investment Committee, which manages the pension portfolio, has repeatedly voted not to recommend divestment of fossil fuel companies.

Divestment does not appear to be a priority for most of the state’s 48,000 employees who share in the pension portfolio. In 2014, the state began offering portfolios free of fossil fuel companies. So far 171, or about 0.35 percent, of employees have taken the option.

Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell pointed to the proliferation of solar power around the state and investments in energy efficiency during Shumlin’s time in office, while reiterating the governor’s position regarding divestment.

“As the governor has said, he doesn’t believe divestment is the sharpest tool available to combat climate change,” Coriell said. “He is open to a conversation about the merits of Vermont divesting.”

During the most recent legislative session, Pollina introduced legislation that would have the state divest itself of fossil fuel company stocks within the next five years. That bill could be revived during the 2016 legislative session.

“While the big oil companies are profitable, there is plenty of evidence that our investment can do well without them,” Pollina said. “Five years is plenty of time to make the transition, and we could certainly start with the coal company stocks.”

josh.ogorman @timesargus.com