Report: Divesting from Fossil Fuels Could Cost Pensioners Trillions

A new study commissioned by the Independent Petroleum Association of America shows pension funds divested from fossil fuel securities would result in a $4.9 trillion loss over a 50-year period.

Prof. Daniel Fischel of the University of Chicago Law School along with Compass Lexecon’s Christopher Fiore and Todd Kendall analyzed the nation’s top 11 pension funds to determine just how much divesting would hurt those who look to benefit the most from the system: retirees. The findings illustrate divesting from coal, oil and gas companies would hurt pensioners without producing any tangible impact for the environment.

The report comes after legislation was recently introduced in the New York Senate and Assembly that would prohibit the state pension fund from investing in publicly traded companies that deal in fossil fuels. Notably, New York and California would stand to lose the most from divesting their public pensions. The nation’s largest pension fund, CalPERS, would lose $210-$289 million annually. New York City’s five pension funds would lose $98-$120 million per year. And pensioners would need to make up for the loss. The trillions of dollars lost would take dollars out of pensioners’ wallets — payouts would get smaller or need to be supplemented by taxpayer bailouts, which is a lose-lose situation.

Jeff Eshelman, senior vice president for operations and public affairs at the Independent Petroleum Association of America commented,

“At a time when pensions across the country are struggling to generate sufficient returns, divestment would impose a staggering financial penalty, making it even more difficult to meet payout obligations for their beneficiaries while having no impact on the environment.”

The report, Fossil Fuel Divestment and Public Pension Funds, is part of a larger conversation around fossil fuel divestment targeting portfolios held by colleges and public pension funds. Environmentalists are taking aim at these securities suggesting divesting as a means to combat climate change. Several top universities like Yale, Harvard, and Washington University have already rejected divesting their school’s endowment, and now, with Fischel’s research, public pension funds will surely be on a similar trajectory. Prof. Fischel noted,

“Given the unique role of the energy sector in the economy, investors who chose to remove traditional energy from their investments reduce the diversification of their portfolios and thereby suffer reduced returns and greater risk. And that’s not all. These costs are further compounded when considering the additional costs of transactional fees, commissions, and compliance costs that are unavoidable when divesting. Divestment may seem noble, but it has real financial implications.”


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