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Like many of you, I spent the past two weeks horrified as I watched the unfolding ecological disaster in East Palestine, Ohio. Several train cars carrying hazardous materials caught fire after they derailed. This has resulted in countless people being exposed to plumes of carcinogenic gas. There are many reports that chemicals are poisoning waterways and soil in the surrounding areas. Norfolk Southern, the company that operated the train, has a history of fighting rail regulation and understaffing trains in the name of saving money. These are factors that could have contributed to this disaster.
This is a story all too common in the United States: The negligence of massive corporations hurting working class people. This is clearly seen in fossil fuel companies, who knew the science of climate change for decades while knowingly hurting our climate in order to boost their profits.
The State of Vermont pension funds for retired state employees are invested in several fossil fuel companies. According to the most recent reports from the Vermont Pension Investment Commission, the pension fund currently holds ~$12,000,000 in fossil fuel investments, including ~$2,700,000 in BP and ~$2,800,000 in Shell.
Two bills under consideration right now (H.197 introduced by Rep. Stebbins, and S.42 introduced by Sen. Ram-Hinsdale) lay out a plan that would fully divest Vermont from fossil fuel.
Divesting from companies that contribute to carbon emissions sends a clear message that Vermont does not support short term profiteering while neglecting the impacts we are feeling from the climate crisis today. The climate crisis caused by these corporations hurts all Vermonters, especially the working class and marginalized communities. As a state that claims to take climate change seriously, we cannot be invested in the stocks of those who caused it.
Another reason to divest is to protect our retiree's portfolio. Make no mistake: the working-class Vermonters who have earned pensions deserve the best return on investment. But the facts tell us that fossil fuels are not a smart investment. According to recent analysis from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, the increasing effects of climate change and the global movement towards clean energy makes fossil fuel holdings unsound.
The facts clearly show that all Vermonters, including our retired workers, stand to benefit from divesting our pension funds from fossil fuels.
We encourage you to contact your legislators and the Governor’s office on this issue and other issues that are important to you.
Lt Governor David Zuckerman