Officials from the pension systems for California's public employees
and schoolteachers and New York public employees, the three largest
U.S. retirement funds, told Reuters they prefer to work with their
portfolio companies to improve their behavior rather than divest
Matthew Sweeney, a spokesperson for the New York State Comptroller's
office, which oversees the state's $161 billion pension fund, said
the state had "not divested from any fossil fuel companies. We do
have an extensive history of engaging portfolio energy companies on
climate change, emissions, safety and other issues to change and
improve their business practices."
Officials at the $283.5 billion California Public Employees'
Retirement System, or Calpers, and the $183 billion California State
Teachers' Retirement System, or Calstrs, said their funds have a
The three systems own roughly $140 million of the top coal company
stocks among them, including CONSOL Energy, Peabody Energy, Arch
Coal, Alpha Natural Resources and Cloud Peak Energy. New York's
position is the biggest of the three at $61 million, according to
BIG MONEY COLLEGE FUNDS
Advocates for divestiture of fossil-fuel-sector shares in university
endowment funds so far have made most of their headway with small
funds associated with fewer than a dozen liberal arts colleges.
Apart from Stanford, which earlier this week announced it would drop
coal company holdings from its $18.7 billion endowment fund, the
cause has little traction among the top endowments.
Harvard, which has the largest endowment at $32 billion, has
rejected calls from students and faculty to divest fossil fuel
stocks. Instead it adopted last month a set of environmental and
social investing principles backed by the United Nations that
encourage signatories to urge companies to make more disclosures on
areas like carbon emissions. A spokesman for Harvard declined to
comment and referred to the university's past statements.
Dan Apfel, head of the activist group Responsible Endowments
Coalition, said he hoped Stanford's decision had made it easier for
other funds to switch to fossil-free investments.
"Stanford is a huge victory for the campaign," Apfel said. "This
will put pressure on all the other top-tier universities that had
said no to divestment or are deciding what to do."
Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, a Stanford graduate
and contributor to its endowment, last year sent letters to Brown
University and Middlebury College urging them to divest their
endowments of some fossil fuel stocks. Both schools rejected the
calls to divest. Spokespeople at Brown and Middlebury declined to
comment following the Stanford announcement.
Some midsize endowments, however, are considering change.
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At American University, an internal committee's report found that a
fossil-fuel-free portfolio might offer competitive returns for its
$535 million endowment, according to documents viewed by Reuters.
The report will be reviewed by trustees later this month.
But Camille Lepre, assistant vice president for communications, said
it would be premature to characterize any expectations for specific
action by the school's Board of Trustees.
Thomas Meyer, a student member of the campus campaign group Fossil
Free AU, said he hoped "the move by Stanford will show the trustees
that this is the right move."
Other states are encouraging their state pension funds to reassess
fossil fuel investments.
In Massachusetts, 43 legislators have backed a bill that would
require the state's pension funds to sell or withdraw $1.4 billion
in fossil fuel investments within five years. Currently, fossil
fuels constitute upwards of 2.8 percent of the fund's $54 billion
value, according to legislative supporters of the bill, which is
currently under committee review.
Earlier this month in Maine, a hotbed for the fossil fuel divestment
movement, the legislature overrode a governor's veto and created a
task force to develop an environmental, social and governance policy
for the Maine Public Employees Retirement System, the state's
roughly $12 billion pension fund.
Meanwhile, this week the New York State Common Retirement Fund was
called out by a former state finance executive, who advocated
selling the 2.5 million shares of coal stocks the fund owns.
"The current position of the U.S. coal industry, and increasingly
that of the world coal industry, is weak, and the worst is yet to
come," said Tom Sanzillo, a former New York deputy comptroller and
finance director at the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial
Over the last three years coal stocks in New York state's pension
fund declined by $108 million, the institute said.
(Editing by Dan Burns and Douglas Royalty)
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