Vermont governor asks lawmakers to divest from coal, ExxonMobil

Vermont governor asks lawmakers to divest from coal, ExxonMobil
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The governor of Vermont wants his state to end its investments in coal companies and oil giant ExxonMobile Corp. 

Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) told lawmakers Friday in his State of the State address that climate change makes it even more important to move away from fossil fuels and investments in them. 

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Shumlin cited the work California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has done to divest his state’s retirement funds of their stake in fossil fuel companies. He said Vermont should “partner with California” and divest from coal. 

“Their pollution sickens our children, creates acid rain, dumps mercury on our forests and in our lakes and increases greenhouse gas emissions,” Shumlin said. 

“I ask that you send me a divestiture bill just like California’s. While you’re doing that, Gov. Brown and I will invite other governors to join us in what should be a national effort.”

Shumlin, too, said the state should divest from ExxonMobil, whose decades-old research into climate change has led to charges that the company misled the public about the impact of burning carbon on global warming. 

The governor compared the studies to tobacco companies’ research into cancer, and said “Vermont should not wait to rid ourselves of ExxonMobil stock.”

“Owning ExxonMobil stock is not a business Vermont should be in,” he said.

Greens have increasingly looked to push governments and other public institutions to divest their holdings in fossil fuel companies. 

California legislators passed a law doing so in 2014. Norway voted last year to ends its coal holdings, and the Bank of England and the Vatican said they were considering the same. 

The fossil fuel industry has pushed back against the movement. An industry-funded study released in September concluded schools considering divestment could lose millions of dollars in investment returns if they followed through on their efforts.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America pushed back against the effort, calling it an “empty gesture." The group cited Vermont State Treasurer calculations that previously said the state could lose $10 million in annual investment returns if it divests. 

“It is clear that the announcement to divest Vermont’s pension fund does not make financial nor environmental sense,” the group said. 

“Rather, these remarks are nothing more than an attempt to demonize an industry while skirting the state’s duty to engage stakeholders and implement effective solutions to reduce carbon emissions.”

—This post was updated at 9:03 a.m. Monday.