COLORADO: On December 9th, New York State became the largest pension fund in the world to take comprehensive climate action, including fossil fuel divestment. The $226 billion state pension fund will review and divest from the riskiest oil and gas companies within four years and decarbonize the entire fund by 2040. On the heels of this announcement, Colorado’s Fossil Free PERA Coalition submitted a formal letter to Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) today with renewed calls for the state pension fund to divest from fossil fuels. Citing the ongoing downward trend of the fossil fuel industry, increasing climate-related financial risk, and mounting concerns over the growing climate crisis and adverse impacts of fossil fuel investments on local communities, the group is calling on PERA to follow New York’s lead.
“Climate-related financial risk should be front and center for PERA. Climate change is not a distant issue – we are already feeling the effects of global warming here in our state, says Deborah McNamara, Campaign Director, 350 Colorado. “Colorado is experiencing one of its driest years on record, a quarter of the state is in extreme drought, and we have wildfires that have collectively burned over 175,000 acres of our land. It is time for PERA to look climate change in the face and make decisions accordingly.And if climate change isn’t imminent enough, then look to impacted residents adversely impacted by PERA’s investments such as those right here in Commerce City and Greeley.”
Colorado’s PERA has come under scrutiny for its fossil fuel investments by the Fossil Free PERA coalition, which has called out PERA’s problematic investments in Suncor and Extraction Oil and Gas, both under scrutiny for harming local communities through dangerous pollution violations, particularly near lower income communities and communities of color. A video was released from impacted Coloradans to PERA members earlier this fall citing concerns about the role of PERA investments in harmful fossil fuel investments.
In addition to harming communities, evidence is increasingly showing that fossil fuels are a bad investment. In 2020 alone, 57 oil & gas companies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, totaling over $55 billion in debt. Colorado ranks the 5th highest state in the US for the number of bankruptcy filings by the oil and gas industry since 2015. In fact, a 2019 study shows that PERA lost $1.77B by not divesting from fossil fuels 10 years ago.
“In Commerce City, the Suncor Oil Refinery is facing a $9 million settlement for violating air quality regulations, by filling the air with dangerous pollutants,” says PERA member and teacher Renee Millard-Chacon. “These air quality violations have caused a variety of health problems for nearby residents, including asthma, cancer, and heart and lung complications. The areas most affected by Suncor’s pollution are low-income communities and communities of color. We do not want our public money invested in these companies, which are adversely impacting our public health and safety.”
Member of the Fossil Free PERA Coalition are calling on PERA to take meaningful leadership and action in response to the climate crisis, to acknowledge the risk of stranded assets and to act accordingly, to avoid fiduciary irresponsibility, and to follow the lead of forward-thinking institutional investors responding appropriately to energy sector losses.
“PERA should follow the lead of the New York State Comptroller, who has announced that his office will decarbonize the pension fund’s full portfolio by 2040 with interim targets, completing a systematic review of all fossil fuel investments within four years, including divesting from any companies which don’t have a plan to leave fossil fuels behind,” says Devon Reynolds, Colorado PERA member, University of Colorado Graduate Student Employee. “This includes transitioning their business away from oil and gas production, servicing or transportation, and alignment with the Paris Climate Agreement. As long as PERA’s money remains invested in the fossil fuel industry, that investment supports an industry that has willfully denied its role in climate change, accelerating today’s climate crisis in favor of profits. PERA must divest from fossil fuels.”
Over 1,110 institutions have now committed to policies black-listing some combination of coal, oil and gas investments due to mounting concern over climate and litigation risk and adverse public health impacts associated with fossil fuel investments. These include sovereign wealth funds, banks, global asset managers and insurance companies, cities, pension funds, health care organizations, universities, faith groups, foundations, and the country of Ireland.
“As the union representing Colorado state employees, we are always concerned with issues that threaten our retirement security. We remain hopeful that with our rapidly changing socio economic landscape, PERA will continue to remain vigilant and strive to improve the diversity of its investment portfolio. We live in a time of extreme global market volatility, not only for PERA but all investors. Through the implementation of PERA’s new governance and disclosure policy, coupled with stakeholder engagement, Colorado WINS remains confident PERA is on the right path to once again provide a well-funded retirement for our state employees.” – Dragan Mejic, Colorado WINS Executive Board, Colorado PERA member
“The economic risk of climate change is real and unlimited. A foundation of any investment is do not take on more risk than you are able to handle, and the State of Colorado is not able to handle unlimited risk. The main reason fossil fuels are even so profitable today is reliant on $5+ Trillion in government subsidies. This movement is greater than just divesting from fossil fuels. Do not the Black Lives Matter movement and beyond show that people are becoming discontent with many current government practices. Aren’t some previously accepted systems already changing? PERA needs to be on the forefront of this and get with its people, not the lobbyist. If the goal of the board of PERA is to keep PERA alive for future generations, every effort should be made to have a future. This is a clear action that helps the future generations.” – Laura Isanuk, Financial Advisor, AIF & CFS, First Affirmative Financial Network
“As long as PERA’s money remains invested in the fossil fuel industry, that investment supports an industry that has willfully denied its role in climate change, accelerating today’s climate crisis in favor of profits. For the sake of drowned Pacific islands, migrants fleeing drought, and future generations’ lives, PERA must divest from fossil fuels.” – Devon Reynolds, Colorado PERA member, University of Colorado Graduate Student Employee
“We as educators need to remember we have the moral responsibility to steward future generations to walk in beauty in all they do, by standing as a barrier to extractive industries like Suncor, and divesting from their insidious practices of poisonous plumes. We need to ensure we can live as transformative educators and good ancestors now for all future generations social and climate justice.” – Renee Millard-Chacon, Colorado PERA member, Educator – Adams D27-J Charter School, Youth Program Coordinator VISTA, Spirit of the Sun, Inc.
“PERA owes the same fiduciary duty to members retired today and members retiring 30 years from now. What this new information makes clear is that everyone’s interests are aligned when it comes to fossil fuel investments. It’s time to move our money to safer investments, both for better returns today and a viable future for PERA members of my generation and beyond.” – Bobbie Mooney, Fossil Free PERA Spokesperson & Colorado PERA member
“The economic outlook for fossil fuels has been weak for years now. As a fellow Coloradan, I hope PERA pays better attention moving forward, and invests with these risks in mind. People’s retirements are on the line.” – Andrew Rodriguez, CEO + CIO, Change Finance, PBC
“We have known for many years that holdings of fossil fuel companies are morally and ethically unsuitable for most investors. We now see that those investments are also detrimental to the risk-adjusted returns of a diversified portfolio like PERA. Combine these factors, and the investment case for fossil fuels collapses. The only question is who will be the last one to come to this realization and what price they will pay for it.” – Daniel Carreno, Change Finance, PBC
“Colorado’s PERA is investing public funds in ways that threaten the health and safety of our state,” says Giselle Herzfeld of 350 Colorado. “Fossil fuel investments are directly threatening the health, safety, and wellbeing of Colorado residents and families. Across our state, communities are experiencing dangerous consequences from this expansion of oil and gas drilling, and the question should be, do we want our public money and pension funds supporting this?”