Climate activists sour on NYC Comptroller Brad Lander over ‘slowdown’ on anti-fossil fuel action

Climate activists who supported Comptroller Brad Lander’s campaign last year are accusing him of dragging his feet on a promise to pull the city’s pension funds away from fossil fuel interests.

The municipal pension fund is one of the largest in the country, valued at $252.5 billion as of April, and Lander campaigned in 2021 on to pledge to as comptroller ensure that none of that cash is invested in fossil fuel companies contributing to climate change.

But activists from several local climate groups told the Daily News this week that, nearly six months into his tenure, Lander hasn’t done enough to make good on that vow because of the pension fund’s continued reliance on BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm .

BlackRock, which manages about $63 billion of the municipal pension pot, holds extensive stake in fossil fuel across the world, and the activist companies argued Lander must pressure the firm to pull the plug on all such energy investments. If BlackRock refuses, they said Lander should stop letting it manage city pension funds altogether.

“When he was running, he was all about climate, and that’s the reason we supported him and have expectations,” said Jose Gonzalez, a researcher with New York Communities for Change, one of the groups involved in pressing Lander.

“But nothing has happened, and we’re very disappointed in that. We’re having a hard time understanding why this slowdown.”

Gonzalez and his group plan to join activists from Sunrise Kids NYC, 350NYC and Rise and Resist outside Lander’s Manhattan office Friday morning to hold a rally and deliver a letter to the comptroller spelling out their demands for what they believe he must do as it relates to BlackRock.

The action comes after the climate groups met with officials from Lander’s office several times throughout the spring to raise alarm about BlackRock, Gonzalez said. But their demands have not gained traction, he said.

“Now we’re at the stage where we don’t want to meet unless it’s to talk about actual action he’s going to take,” he said.

In a statement, Lander said his office is actively engaged in diving city funds from fossil fuel companies with the goal of achieving “net zero greenhouse gas emissions in our portfolios by 2040, one of the strongest commitments of any major institutional investor.”

“And we are aggressively leveraging our role as shareholder to push companies — General Electric, GM, Ford, Toyota, Duke Energy, and yes, BlackRock — to reduce their exposure to and reliance on fossil fuels,” he said. “We are working to do everything within our power, in collaboration with trustees and advocates, to address the climate crisis and the long-term risks it poses to our city’s public pension funds and our communities.”

The Lander lament from the city’s climate community comes on the heels of reports that BlackRock recently backtracked on plans to phase out its fossil fuel investments after Republican officials in primarily Southern states threatened to stop doing business with the firm if it followed through.

Gonzalez argued Lander should show BlackRock that it will lose New York City’s fiscal power if it caters to the red states.

“The pension funds of New York City are immense, and we can push back,” he said. “That’s what we should be doing.”

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