According to a new report from Divest NY, the New York State Teachers Retirement System has increased its investment in coal. 

Divest NY, along with several lawmakers, wants the New York State Teachers Retirement System (NYSTRS) to divest from fossil fuels and develop a "coal exit plan."

The NYSTRS has its own governance and is not managed by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who has already begun the process of divesting from fossil fuels. 

Former teacher, state Senator Jabari Brisport, chair of the Committee on Children and Families, joined climate activists last week to discuss the new report and urge passage of a bill he sponsors (S4783a / A6331a) called the "New York State Teachers' Fossil Fuel Divestment Act."

"When you’re a teacher, you’re constantly thinking about the future. You look at your students and you wonder what the planet might look like for them in the next 20, 30 or 50 years," he explained. "With that in mind, it’s important that we ensure that we are not actually investing in the things that are polluting the climate and accelerating climate change."

Brisport is carrying the bill with Assemblymember Anna Kelles. He explained to Capital Tonight how the bill would work.

"We would work with the retirement fund to develop a plan of action in order to divest in a certain number of years," he said. "We want to bring everyone to the table."

But, Brisport said, time is critical, and divestment from fossil fuels isn’t new. Both New York City and New York State’s pension funds are in the process of divesting. b

In its bill memo, the New York State Retirement System stated, in part:  

“NYSTRS agrees with the sentiment of the Teachers’ Fossil Fuel Divestment bill, which articulates global climate change as a risk that must be mitigated. We believe mitigation efforts require public policy and regulatory directives, investment in green technology and infrastructure, and individual commitments to reduce the use of fossil fuels.”

Brisport was underwhelmed by NYSTRS’ bill memo.

“Something else in their (memo) that they mentioned is that after investigating, they will give us an answer, a response or an update by December 31 of this year.  And we don’t have time for that,” Brisport said.

An emailed statement from New York State United Teachers requested by Capital Tonight read: 

“NYSUT supports the concept of divestment, as long as it is done in a fiduciarily responsible manner.”

The rest of NYSTRS statement regarding the Divest NY report is below.

According to Spokesperson Heidi Brennan, NYSTRS’ coal holdings increased during the quarter ending December 31, 2020 for two primary reasons:

  • During the quarter, some of our active managers, exercising their independent investment discretion, increased their position in coal companies. Generally, active managers add or sell positions to reflect their view of risk and return in the portfolio they manage.
  • During the quarter, NYSTRS provided additional funding to an international passive manager. Some of the increase in coal positions relates to this manager investing across the index, which includes coal companies. The manager’s goal is to match the index return by holding the companies in the index. 

Brennan’s statement went on to say, "The Retirement Board continues to make progress in developing and establishing the system’s investment beliefs. We are committed to providing the deliverables outlined in our April 30th statement (attached) on or before the end of the year."