Vermont Fund May Become First To Hit Gas On Fossil Fuel Divestment

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Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin had previously been against the state’s pension fund divesting from fossil fuel companies.

Shumlin talked to the Associated Press about divestment last November:

“I believe that by keeping a seat at the table and by encouraging smart investments, we can make progress towards a cleaner, greener economy while still meeting our obligations to pay for the retirement of [state and municipal employees] in the most responsible way for taxpayers,” Shumlin told the Associated Press…

In other words: they can do more to effect change as a shareholder of fossil fuel companies. His argument against divestment echoes what we’ve heard from other pension funds around the country.

But Vermont’s view might be changing. Last week, Shumlin went so far as to call divestment from fossil fuels a “good idea”. Reported by Seven Days:

“I actually think it’s an intriguing idea,” Shumlin said. “And, you know, I think that, over time, we’ll find ways that we can be more active in that effort. I would like us to be. As you probably know, we have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers to ensure that, you know, we’re getting a good return on our investments. So it’s going to take some time to make the transformation, but I think it’s a good idea.”


“I think it’s great,” [environmentalist and scholar Bill] McKibben told Seven Days by email, referring to Shumlin’s shift. “He’s been talking about climate change in powerful ways since [Tropical Storm] Irene, and this (assuming he actually follows through, and soon) is an obvious and easy move (Vt. led the way in divestment from apartheid, after all).”

“And it’s hardly revolutionary,” McKibben added, noting that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, whose $860 million comes from Standard Oil money, committed to divestment on Sunday. “If the heirs to the world’s greatest oil fortune think it’s unwise and immoral to invest in fossil fuel, what the hell excuse do any of the rest of us have?”

More and more, pension funds are thinking about this issue. CalSTRS and other major institutional investors announced last week they are helping to fund a study on the effect climate change would have on markets.


Photo: Paul Falardeau via Flickr CC License