May 9 Few if any of the big U.S. pension or
college endowment funds appear ready to follow in Stanford
University's footsteps and pull their money out of shares of
coal miners or other fossil fuel producers.
Officials from the pension systems for California's public
employees and schoolteachers and New York public employees, the
three largest U.S. retirement funds, told Reuters they prefer to
work with their portfolio companies to improve their behavior
rather than divest them.
Matthew Sweeney, a spokesperson for the New York State
Comptroller's office, which oversees the state's $161 billion
pension fund, said the state had "not divested from any fossil
fuel companies. We do have an extensive history of engaging
portfolio energy companies on climate change, emissions, safety
and other issues to change and improve their business
Officials at the $283.5 billion California Public Employees'
Retirement System, or Calpers, and the $183 billion California
State Teachers' Retirement System, or Calstrs, said their funds
have a similar approach.
The three systems own roughly $140 million of the top coal
company stocks among them, including CONSOL Energy,
Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Alpha Natural
Resources and Cloud Peak Energy. New York's
position is the biggest of the three at $61 million, according
to Reuters data.
BIG MONEY COLLEGE FUNDS
Advocates for divestiture of fossil-fuel-sector shares in
university endowment funds so far have made most of their
headway with small funds associated with fewer than a dozen
liberal arts colleges. Apart from Stanford, which earlier this
week announced it would drop coal company holdings from its
$18.7 billion endowment fund, the cause has little traction
among the top endowments.
Harvard, which has the largest endowment at $32 billion, has
rejected calls from students and faculty to divest fossil fuel
stocks. Instead it adopted last month a set of environmental and
social investing principles backed by the United Nations that
encourage signatories to urge companies to make more disclosures
on areas like carbon emissions. A spokesman for Harvard declined
to comment and referred to the university's past statements.
Dan Apfel, head of the activist group Responsible Endowments
Coalition, said he hoped Stanford's decision had made it easier
for other funds to switch to fossil-free investments.
"Stanford is a huge victory for the campaign," Apfel said.
"This will put pressure on all the other top-tier universities
that had said no to divestment or are deciding what to do."
Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, a Stanford
graduate and contributor to its endowment, last year sent
letters to Brown University and Middlebury College urging them
to divest their endowments of some fossil fuel stocks. Both
schools rejected the calls to divest. Spokespeople at Brown and
Middlebury declined to comment following the Stanford
Some midsize endowments, however, are considering change.
At American University, an internal committee's report found
that a fossil-fuel-free portfolio might offer competitive
returns for its $535 million endowment, according to documents
viewed by Reuters. The report will be reviewed by trustees later
But Camille Lepre, assistant vice president for
communications, said it would be premature to characterize any
expectations for specific action by the school's Board of
Thomas Meyer, a student member of the campus campaign group
Fossil Free AU, said he hoped "the move by Stanford will show
the trustees that this is the right move."
Other states are encouraging their state pension funds to
reassess fossil fuel investments.
In Massachusetts, 43 legislators have backed a bill that
would require the state's pension funds to sell or withdraw $1.4
billion in fossil fuel investments within five years. Currently,
fossil fuels constitute upwards of 2.8 percent of the fund's $54
billion value, according to legislative supporters of the bill,
which is currently under committee review.
Earlier this month in Maine, a hotbed for the fossil fuel
divestment movement, the legislature overrode a governor's veto
and created a task force to develop an environmental, social and
governance policy for the Maine Public Employees Retirement
System, the state's roughly $12 billion pension fund.
Meanwhile, this week the New York State Common Retirement
Fund was called out by a former state finance executive, who
advocated selling the 2.5 million shares of coal stocks the fund
"The current position of the U.S. coal industry, and
increasingly that of the world coal industry, is weak, and the
worst is yet to come," said Tom Sanzillo, a former New York
deputy comptroller and finance director at the Institute of
Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
Over the last three years coal stocks in New York state's
pension fund declined by $108 million, the institute said.
(Editing by Dan Burns and Douglas Royalty)