Unions Call on MA Pension Fund to Address Risks of Fossil Fuels

divestment.jpgOn Tuesday, Service Employees International Union Local 509 and the Massachusetts Nurses Association delivered a letter asking the Massachusetts pension board to address the financial risks of continued investment in oil, coal and gas companies. Educators for a Democratic Union, a progressive caucus within the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and Divest Our Pensions Now, an advocacy group representing state employees and pension recipients, also signed the letter.

"There are certainly environmental concerns related to the use of fossil fuels, but this ultimately comes down to ensuring a secure retirement for Massachusetts families," said Susan Tousignant, president of SEIU Local 509. "When it comes to the risk of fossil fuel investments, we’re looking at a volatile market, at best. At worst, we could see the financial security of current and future retirees go down the drain. We have a duty to do everything we can to prevent that from happening."

350mass_divestment.jpg350 Mass has worked closely with SEIU 509 and the Massachusetts Nurses Association to advocate for divesting the state pension fund from fossil fuels, and we were on hand on Tuesday to help deliver the letter!

The letter explains that according to some of the world’s leading financial experts, fossil fuel companies present unique risks to investors, in part because the value of fossil fuel companies is likely to decline sharply when governments take action to address climate change. 

The action helped put much-needed pressure on the pension board and earned great press coverage from The Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, State House News Service, and the Huffington Post

Interested in getting more involved in our divestment campaign? Email Darcy DuMont, dumont140@yahoo.com. And don't forget to sign our petition to help make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to divest from fossil fuels! 


Letter to PRIM from Pensioner Groups

July 21, 2015

Deborah B. Goldberg, State Treasurer, Chair
Michael G. Trotsky, Executive Director & Chief Investment Officer
Robert L. Brousseau
Ruth Ellen Fitch
Michael J. Heffernan
Anthony E. Hubbard, Esq.
Theresa F. Goldrick, Esq.
Dennis J. Naughton
Dana A. Pullman
Paul E. Shanley, Esq.

Dear Pension Reserves Investment Management Board Members,

On behalf of the member organizations listed below and as participants in the Massachusetts state pension system, we are writing with urgent questions that pertain to the Pension Reserves Investment Trust's (PRIT) investments in fossil fuel companies. Our questions have been informed by the May 9 vote of the Massachusetts Teachers Association asking PRIM to identify fossil fuel holdings and to study the advisability of fossil fuel divestment. Recent pronouncements from authoritative quarters have elevated our concerns:

  • The governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said that the "vast majority of reserves are unburnable" if global temperature increases are to be kept below 2 degrees Centigrade.
  • Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), states that the "pensions, life insurances and nest eggs of billions of ordinary people depend on the long-term security and stability of institutional investment funds. Climate change increasingly poses one of the biggest long-term threats to those investments and the wealth of the global economy." She warns that "institutional investors who ignore climate risk face being increasingly seen as blatantly in breach of their fiduciary duty to their beneficial owners - men and women who have worked hard all their lives to put away something for their retirement and for their children."
  • World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, the former president of Dartmouth, includes divestment as a legitimate tactic: "The good news is that there is action we all can take to turn economies around . . . we can divest and tax that which we don't want, the carbon that threatens development gains over the last 20 years." He goes on to urge: "Be the first mover. Use smart due diligence. Rethink what fiduciary responsibility means in this changing world."
  • Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, has spoken of the need for "making sure that people pay for the damage they cause...We are subsidizing the very behavior that is destroying our planet, and on an enormous scale. Both direct subsidies and the loss of tax revenue from fossil fuels ate up almost $2 trillion in 2011...."
  • Stories in the mainstream media, including the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, the Financial Times, Pensions and Investments and other outlets are appearing at a rapidly increasing frequency, warning investors of the threat of "stranded assets."

While we appreciate that you have endorsed new proxy voting guidelines regarding renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as signing on to the Ceres letter to the SEC, we believe the Board has a fiduciary duty to incorporate climate change concerns into its investment policy decisions in the interest of not only pension beneficiaries, but in the interest of the taxpayers that indirectly contribute to the pension system. We respectfully request a public response, in writing, to the following questions:

    1. What is the PRIM board doing to assess the pension fund's exposure to the risks of owning fossil fuel assets? How has it assessed the risk to the long-term performance of the portfolio? Is investing in fossil fuels in the long-term interest of the pension fund?
    2. If extraction of 4/5ths of currently declared fossil fuel reserves were to be restricted by government regulation or market mechanisms, how would this affect the pension fund's value?
    3. The PRIM received a "D" in the survey conducted by the Asset Owners Disclosure Project (AODP) on Climate Risk Management. Has the Board reviewed the survey report? If so, is any action being taken to improve the grade?
    4. In the past year, a groundswell of divestment has occurred by major institutions, citing concerns for the planet-endangering behavior of fossil fuel companies as well as the risk of stranded assets. Has PRIM considered gradual divestment of its fossil fuel assets, estimated at over 1 billion dollars?
    5. Does the PRIM board factor in exposure to climate-related impacts on its non-fossil fuel holdings as well? If so, by what measure?

Thank you in advance for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Susan Tousignant, President, SEIU Local 509
100 Talcott Ave, Bldg. 313, 2nd Floor
Watertown, MA 02472
stousignant@SEIU509.org

Donna Kelly-Williams, RN
President, Massachusetts Nurses Association
340 Turnpike Road
Canton, MA 02021
dkellywilliams@massnurses.org

Fran Ludwig, Advisory Board, Divest Our Pensions Now
19 Wyman Road, Lexington, MA 02420
fludwig12@yahoo.com

Lauren Ockene, Educators for a Democratic Union, a caucus in the Massachusetts Teachers Association
24 Cranston Street, Apt.. 2
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
lockene@mac.com

Cc: Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board Investment Advisory Committee


Call Your Legislator Today and Ask Them to Support Solar!

solar-power1.jpg

The state legislature is currently considering several bills that would raise the net metering cap and allow our solar industry to keep growing. Of all the bills under consideration, S. 1770 / H. 2852, filed by Senator Eldridge and Representatives Calter and Mark, provides the clearest, most comprehensive framework for supporting the future growth of the clean energy industry in Massachusetts. But passing any of the bills would represent a step forward -- the most important thing is that we raise the cap soon!

Please call your legislator today and ask them to support raising the net metering cap! 

1) Click here to look up the name and contact information of your State Senator and State Representative. 

2) Ask your State Senator and Representative to support legislation that would lift the net metering cap. Here's a basic script you can use: 

I’m a constituent of yours and a member of 350 Massachusetts. I'm calling to urge you to support raising the cap on net metering so that the solar industry can continue to provide clean energy and good jobs to Massachusetts. 

If your legislator is already supportive of raising the net metering cap, you should thank them for their position and ask them to reach out to their colleagues on this issue.   

3) Fill out the form here and let us know how it went! 


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