State and regional leaders trying to fill a leadership void in combating climate change now include New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who last week announced that the city would revamp city pension funds to eliminate holdings in fossil fuel companies and file a lawsuit against five big oil companies.
The New York Times reports that de Blasio, a Democrat, said the oil companies should be held accountable for damages related to climate change, such as the widespread destruction from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. He said BP, Chevron, Conoco, Philllips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell all have been aware for years that burning fossil fuels was responsible for global climate change but hid that information from the public. As a result, he said, New York has spent billions of dollars and will be forced to spend billions more in the future.
“This city is standing up and saying, ‘We’re going to take our own actions to protect our own people,’ ” he said. “We’re not waiting.”
The lawsuit, filed in a federal district court in New York, “seeks to shift the costs of protecting the City from climate change impacts back onto the companies that have done nearly all they could to create this existential threat,” The Washington Post said. The lawsuit alleges that the five companies collectively are responsible for 11% of all greenhouse gas emissions through the fuels they have sold over time.
The Post points out that several California cities and counties also have gone to court with similar complaints, but their legal efforts to hold oil companies accountable for the damaging effects of climate change have failed.
The New York Times noted in a recent editorial, “Whatever the obstacles, the suit and the discovery process will be useful for many reasons, not least in spotlighting evidence that companies like Exxon had long known from their own scientists about the damage their products would cause the environment while at the same time underwriting advocacy groups whose main purpose was to confuse the public by denying the very existence of climate change.”
Exxon Mobil said in its blog Energy Factor that lawsuits like this one weren’t helpful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which it called a “global issue” that required “global participation and actions.”
“We believe the risk of climate change is real and we are committed to being part of the solution,” the blog said. “That is why we have invested $8 billion since 2000 on energy efficiency and emissions reduction.”
Shell said in a statement to The Post the courts are the wrong place to address climate change.
Moves to change New York pension funds
The other volley from de Blasio was his promise to divest city pension funds of some $5 billion in holdings of companies connected to the fossil fuel industry.
But as city comptroller Scott Stringer explained, the move is not as simple as a press conference announcement. Stringer, who sat next to de Blasio, said that the city was setting a formal goal of dumping the investments but that the process could take five years to complete. He said the divestitures would have to be considered in the context of “sound fiscal stewardship.”
There are five city pension funds, and trustees would have to approve any decisions on divesting certain holdings. The boards were asked in a resolution to “initiate a process” to come up with a plan for ridding the funds of the investments while balancing the need for fiduciary responsibility. Previously, the pension funds dumped investments in the coal industry and private prison companies, but the scope of those changes was much smaller, accounting for only $60 million of the funds’ $189 billion total.
Reaction was predictably mixed. Bill McKibben, co-founder of the advocacy group 350.org, told The Post that New York’s latest effort is one of the most important moments in the fight over climate change in the lat 30 years. Lobbyists for the gas and oil industry charged de Blasio had “turned his back” on policy officers and other public employees who are counting on their pensions in retirement.
New York governor also active
Earlier, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had some energy-related announcements of his own, namely a call for 800 megawatts of offshore wind contracts by 2019, tighter standards for small fossil fuel generators, and 1,500 megawatts of energy storage by 2025, the website Energy Wire reported.
Cuomo said that he wanted to work with officials in California and Washington state to rebuild a climate science advisory committee that President Donald Trump disbanded. New York also said it will work with other states on energy efficiency standards for home appliances.
In his 2017 State of the State address, the governor proposed the development of 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. That would be enough to supply electricity to about 1.25 million homes. The offshore wind projects are part of the the state’s goal of meeting 50% of its electricity needs with renewable sources by 2030.
Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey also are pressing ahead with offshore wind development, each wishing to become the hub for the U.S. industry, Energy Wire said.