By Bill Parry
New York City is taking on big oil. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week that the city was suing the five largest fossil fuel companies, seeking damages to help protect the city from climate change.
In addition, de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer and other trustees of the city’s $189 billion pension funds announced a goal to divest funds from fossil fuel reserve owners within five years, which would make New York City the first major pension plan to do so.
“New York City is standing up for future generations by becoming the first major U.S. city to divest our pension funds from fossil fuels,” de Blasio said. “At the same time, we’re bringing the fight against climate change straight to the fossil fuel companies that knew about its effects and intentionally misled the public to protect their profits. As climate change continues to worsen, it’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient.”
The city’s lawsuit seeks billions in damages from BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell. The mayor cited Hurricane Sandy as evidence, noting that the superstorm “claimed 44 lives and unleashed $19 billion worth of devastation in a matter of hours.”
Stringer said New York City is sending a message to the world that a brighter economy rests on being green.
“It’s complex, it will take time, and there are going to be many steps,” Stringer said. “But we’re breaking new ground, and we are committed to forging a path forward while remaining laser-focused on our role as fiduciaries to the systems and beneficiaries we serve.”
City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), who was renamed chairman of the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee last week, supported divestment of the city’s pension funds from fossil fuel interests.
“After years of advocacy, this divestment underscores the benefits of renewable energy,” Constantinides said. “As fossil fuel securities have underperformed recently, divestment is a sound economic decision that will make our city greener while saving money. I am also proud that our city is seeking damages from fossil fuel companies to help make us more resilient and sustainable as the effects of climate change make their impact.”
To recover from past harm and prepare for future events, the city is already executing a resiliency program of more than $20 billion to protect New Yorkers and build against rising seas, more powerful storms and hotter temperatures.
“New York City is a global leader in combating climate change, and today’s announcement that the city’s five pension funds will divest an estimated $5 billion in fossil fuel securities marks another major step forward,” U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said. “New York City is sending an important message: To invest in our financial future, we must also invest in the energy of the future.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr