Washington State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, sole trustee of
the state public employee pension fund, is again pushing for energy giant ExxonMobil to disclose how efforts to mitigate global warming will impact its corporate bottom line.
On behalf of the million-plus state workers and retirees who form the nucleus of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, DiNapoli said the resolution submitted Thursday “aims to ensure that ExxonMobil fully evaluates and discloses to investors risks to the viability of its assets as a result of the transition to a low carbon economy.”
The Church of England joined DiNapoli’s resolution.
“As investors, we are concerned that, unlike many of its peers, Exxon has not taken the steps necessary to demonstrate its resilience in a lower carbon future,” DiNapoli said in a statement.
The state pension fund’s investment in ExxonMobil is currently valued at $973.6 million.
There was no immediate response from ExxonMobil, but the company has said that it believes climate change is real and is taking it seriously.
Rex Tillerson, Exxon’s former CEO-turned-President Donald Trump’s secretary of state, once suggested climate change is “an engineering problem.”
DiNapoli and the Church of England submitted a similar resolution to ExxonMobil last year. It received support from 38 percent of voting shareholders, which DiNapoli’s office termed “a record for a climate change resolution at the company.” But it ultimately was defeated.
The $186 billion retirement fund, the nation’s third largest, is not the only battle line drawn between New York and ExxonMobil.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has engaged in a protracted legal battle with the company in a fraud investigation aimed at uncovering whether ExxonMobil covered up what it knew about climate change and fossil fuels in order to safeguard its business.
Schneiderman’s tactics engendered the wrath of Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, who last month issued a second subpoena to collect records from Schneiderman, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and eight environmental groups.
Smith has argued that the attorneys general and the groups conspired to deny the free-speech rights of company employees who may question the legitimacy of climate-change science.
Schneiderman’s office has countered that Smith’s effort is a smokescreen for fending off the attorneys general’s legal inquires.
“Attorney General Schneiderman’s investigation will not be deterred,” spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said.
Environmental groups expressed disappointment with DiNapoli’s resolution, saying the state pension fund should pull its money out of ExxonMobil.
“Instead of negotiating with rogue oil corporations, DiNapoli should be protecting New Yorkers,” said Betámia Coronel of 350.org, one of the environmental advocacy groups supporting Schneiderman through #ExxonKnew. “Exxon has proved time and time again it will never change its stripes. With Trump and his oil cronies putting profit before people and planet, New York has the potential to be a true beacon of safety and security, yet it continues to invest billions in the likes of Exxon. How many more Superstorm Sandy’s must New Yorkers endure before we finally take bold action?”
A spokeswoman for DiNapoli responded that divestment is not a practical or desirable option.
“The fund has a fiduciary duty to members, retirees and beneficiaries of state retirement system to maximize the long-term value of the fund through sustainable investments,” said the spokeswoman, Jennifer Freeman. “Rather than give up its seat at the table by divesting, the fund leverages its role as a large institutional investor to push for improved corporate behavior and accountability.”