'Huge Ovation': Citing #ExxonKnew, Vermont Governor Calls for Fossil Fuel Divestment

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'Huge Ovation': Citing #ExxonKnew, Vermont Governor Calls for Fossil Fuel Divestment

'Owning ExxonMobil stock is not a business Vermont should be in,' declared Gov. Peter Shumlin during State of the State address

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin as he delivered a previous State of the State Address at the Statehouse in 2014. (Photo: Andy Duback/AP)

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin was given a "huge ovation" on Thursday after calling on fellow lawmakers to fully divest the state's pension funds from ExxonMobil as well as the coal industry.

Shumlin, a Democrat, made the call during his annual State of the State address before the Vermont legislature in Montpelier in which he specifically cited recent revelations about Exxon's concealment, since the 1970's, of what it knew about how carbon emissions fuel global warming.

"Today is a great win for the thousands of Vermonters who have joined this fight, and it will give us new vigor to keep pushing on many fronts." —Bill McKibben, 350.org"Vermont should not wait to rid ourselves of ExxonMobil stock," Shumlin declared. "It has been clearly documented that since the 1980’s, ExxonMobil’s own scientists have long known about the dangers of global warming, and chose to conceal that from the public. At the same time that they were building their oil rigs taller to account for rising sea levels, they were funding front groups of scientists to deny climate change is real. This is a page right out of Big Tobacco, which for decades denied the health risks of their product as they were killing people. Owning ExxonMobil stock is not a business Vermont should be in."

As Common Dreams has reported extensively, new and specific scrutiny has been placed on ExxonMobil in recent months after investigative journalists uncovered damning evidence about what (and when) Exxon executives knew about the planetary impacts of their products.

Joining California, which in October passed a bill into law forcing the state's public pension funds to divest from companies profiting from the production or transport of thermal coal, Vermont could now take a leadership role among states calling for an end to direct investments in the fossil fuel industry.

"Our small state must partner with California, which manages hundreds of billions of dollars of state funds, and divest Vermont of coal," Shumlin said in his address. "Let’s remember Vermont is downwind of the coal fired plants to our West; we’re the tailpipe to their dirty energy choices. Their pollution sickens our children, creates acid rain, dumps mercury on our forests and in our lakes and increases greenhouse gas emissions. I ask that you send me a divestiture bill just like California’s.  While you’re doing that, Governor Brown and I will invite other Governors to join us in what should be a national effort."

Bill McKibben, co-founder of the global climate group 350.org and a Vermont resident, was among the first to applaud the governor's announcement.

"Vermont can lead by refocusing investments that align with the Vermont's clean energy goals while protecting public pensions." —Robb Kidd, Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club"It's great that Vermont may join states like California in divesting from coal—and even better that Governor Shumlin has taken the lead by saying no government should be invested in Exxon, as perhaps the greatest scandal in corporate history begins to unfold," McKibben said. "Today is a great win for the thousands of Vermonters who have joined this fight, and it will give us new vigor to keep pushing on many fronts."

Speaking on behalf of the Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club, Robb Kidd, the group's conservation program manager, said it was great to finally hear Shumlin acknowledge the urgent need to divest from fossil fuels. "In light of the Paris Climate talks it is quite evident that fossil fuel investments are volatile and there are real questions about the fiduciary responsibility of continuing to invest in them," said Kidd. "Vermont can lead by refocusing investments that align with the Vermont's clean energy goals while protecting public pensions."

According to a statement by 350.org:

The call to divest from Exxon is particularly significant following a series of investigative reports revealing that as early as the 1970s, Exxon not only knew about the effect of burning fossil fuels on the climate, but also that the company spent millions in sowing doubt and confusion around its own research among the public and world governments. Reporters recently uncovered that Exxon’s oil industry peers also knew about these climate dangers and lied about them for decades, potentially opening them up for prosecution or additional regulations.

Now, momentum is growing to prosecute Exxon for their climate lies. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has launched an investigation to uncover all Exxon knew about climate change. Last October, over 60 prominent indigenous peoples, social, and environmental organizations released a call for the Department of Justice Attorney General Loretta Lynch to launch an investigation. Organizers across the country are urging their state Attorney Generals to launch similar investigations.

Governor Shumlin’s push for Vermont to also divest from coal is part of a growing wave of divestment commitments worldwide as the case for action grows ever stronger. During the UN climate talks in December, it was announced that over 500 institutions representing more than $3.4 trillion in assets under management have committed to some level of divestment. Coal in particular has felt the pinch, as stocks have plummeted and many companies have filed for bankruptcy. There has been growing momentum for full divestment, as well, as renewable energy has gained cost efficiency over fossil fuels and Fossil Free Indexes have outperformed conventional markets. Leaders from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to World Bank President Jim Kim have commended the divestment movement for the impact it has having on the economic and political discussion about how to address the climate crisis.

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