Conservative group blasts Vermont Gov. over potential anti-fossil fuel ties

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A prominent conservative group is targeting Vermont’s governor and environmental activist Bill McKibben over a yearlong campaign to force the state’s public pension to divest from coal assets.

America Rising Squared, a Virginia-based nonprofit that advocates free market policies, submitted public records requests against Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin in early May to flesh out the nature of his relationship with fossil fuel divestment activists. The request included information highlighting his association with McKibben, who once pushed for a one-child policy in 1998, and has since moved on to building a massive fossil fuel divestment movement.

McKibben founded the environmentalist group in 2007 to push universities and public pensions into divesting fossil fuel assets.

Jeremy Adler, the communications director for America Rising Squared, said in an email statement Tuesday the group filed the requests “to see the extent to which Governor Shumlin is coordinating with outside special interests to promote this deeply flawed fossil fuel divestment legislation.”

In addition, Adler’s group is hoping to determine what, if any, connection there is between the governor’s office and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Conversation Voters of Vermont, and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

The request stems largely from Shumlin’s decision earlier this year to push legislation requiring the Vermont Pension Investment Committee (VPIC) to sell off the state’s $4 billion pension fund of coal holdings, as well as stock in Exxon-Mobil. The bill was shelved thanks in part to opposition from State Treasurer Beth Pearce, a Democrat, who said in February that divesting fossil fuel assets would cost the state pension funds more than $10 million a year and an additional $8.5 million in maintenance fees.

Shumlin wrote a letter to the VPIC on Feb. 18 urging the pension to “include a VPIC member who remains open to divestment” so the group can maintain some objectivity when considering how best to divest its Exxon assets. He said the pension would not put its best foot forward on the divestment issue if its members were politically opposed to the idea.

Shumlin is a recent convert to the divestment crusade.

“We believe that having a seat at the table — owning the stocks and having a seat at the table with the oil companies — is a good place to be,” Shumlin said in 2014 about his and Pearce’s then-opposition to divestment.

McKibben told reporters he’s “flattered” that’s work has “exposed the fossil fuel industry enough that they feel the need for this kind of personal attack.”

“But as usual,” he added, “the real news is the lengths they will go to avoid talking about the greatest issue of our time, their ongoing wreckage of the planet’s climate, and in the process so many of its people.”

A survey conducted in May by business advisory firm FTI Consulting at the behest of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) showed retirees are not at all interested in divestment, potentially tossing a wrench in McKibben and Shumlin’s mission.

Nearly 88 percent of respondents in Texas, for instance, told the researchers they would actively oppose divestment. The same view holds true among 77 percent of respondents in Pennsylvania, as well as 72 percent of retirees in New York, who think divestment is a raw deal for public pensions.

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