Comptroller DiNapoli Wades Into Divestment Versus Investment Debate

After receiving the New York State Bar Association’s award for environmental achievement, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli took to the podium to remind the public why he earned the honors.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli speaking at the NY Conference of Mayors at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. (ALBANY IN CRISIS) Photo taken in Albany, New York on February 23, 2009. Original Filename: albanyjx160.jpg

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli speaking at the NY Conference of Mayors at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. (ALBANY IN CRISIS, 2/23/09)

DiNapoli accepted the recognition at the NYSBA’s annual Environmental Law Section Meeting, which took place last Friday. During his speech, the Comptroller outlined not only his history, but his plans for the future as well. From the $184.5 billion in the state’s pension fund, DiNapoli has allocated $1.5 billion to clean energy investments, a number which will double for 2016.

In addition to these items, the Comptroller earned the award for his prior role as Assembly chair of the Committee on Environmental Conservation, where he spearheaded the effort to revitalize the state’s Superfund and brownfield cleanup fund.

Despite his apparently glowing environmental record, however, the Comptroller has attracted some criticism. In his speech Friday, DiNapoli argued against divesting from fossil fuels, warning that attempts to cut state ties with companies that use out-of-date, environmentally harmful energy sources, would have little positive effect.

According to the Comptroller, divesting would not put the companies out of business. It would, however, make it more difficult to reign in their practices.

Activists have urged the Comptroller to divest in fossil fuel based companies for the better part of the past two years. About $12 billion – roughly 7 percent – of the state’s pension fund last year went towards fossil fuel developers. DiNapoli had previously entertained the notion of divestment, though stopped short of any definitive statement.

The Comptroller has long pushed for investment as an alternative, including at the December UN Climate talks in Paris, where he unveiled a $2 billion low-carbon index fund, a portfolio of companies looking to lower their greenhouse gas emissions. The fund will reduce the companies’ emissions by as much as 70 percent, and brings New York State’s sustainable investment profile to $5 billion.