MONTPELIER >> Environmental activist and writer Bill McKibben says Vermont lawmakers should consider broader financial implications of the state's investments as it considers whether to divest from some or all fossil fuel companies.
He was among those testifying Friday afternoon at a joint hearing of two legislative committees that also heard state Treasurer Beth Pearce insist that lawmakers not interfere in decisions she said were best left to the committee that oversees the state's retirement funds.
McKibben, whose 1989 book "The End of Nature" is widely credited as the first book about global warming written for a general audience, pointed to costs to the state tied to climate change. They included reduced tax revenues due to weakened winter tourism, cleaning up after events such as major destructive storms, and responding to the spread of Lyme disease as tick populations increase.
McKibben, a Ripton resident and scholar in residence at Middlebury College, said "there's something deeply ironic about investing in the very companies that are driving these expenditures."
The House and Senate Government Operations committees also heard from Jack Robinson, vice chairman at Boston-based Trillium Asset Management, a firm specializing in "sustainable and responsible" investing, and Michael Dworkin, a former chairman of the state Public Service Board who is now a professor at Vermont Law School.
They both testified that coal and oil companies have become relatively poor investment options in recent years and said those trends are likely to continue.
"It is time to get out of them before they get worse," Dworkin said.
Gov. Peter Shumlin began a big push for partial fuel divestment with his State of the State Address last month, calling for Vermont to divest from coal companies, and from Exxon-Mobil. The Democrat blames the oil giant for concealing what it knew about climate change decades ago, a charge the company has denied. Shumlin said Vermont should await the conclusion of a study by California before deciding whether to divest from all fossil fuel companies.
The legislative committees are reviewing divestment legislation; its fate is uncertain.
Pearce, a Democrat who both serves as treasurer and as a board member of the Vermont Pension Investment Committee, offered some of her most strongly worded comments yet against the Legislature involving itself in investment decisions usually left to the investment committee.
She said it would be "ludicrous" for lawmakers to weigh in based on the lackluster performance of certain stocks over a period of a few years.
She also noted she has the support for the idea that the Legislature should back off from unions representing the state employees and teachers covered by the pension funds.