UUP professors, SUNY students call for fossil fuel divestment in retirement funds

Legislative Gazette photo, above, by Daniel DiLorenzo. Cover photo courtesy of Stop The Cricket Valley Power Plant.

On April 14, 2022 members of the group TIAA Divest held a rally at SUNY New Paltz to spread the word about their campaign to pressure TIAA CEO Thasunda Brown Duckett into halting new investments in fossil fuels, fully divesting from fossil fuels by 2025, and immediately stopping TIAA’s acquisition of farm and timberland around the world.

Organizations that support these efforts include the Stop Land Grabs Coalition, ActionAid USA, Friends of the Earth U.S., and Extinction Rebellion, among others.

The Teacher Insurance Annuity Association provides retirement accounts for educators, scholars, and arts workers. Their main clients are universities and nonprofits and they brand themselves as a socially responsible company. New York’s public college and university professors use TIAA to manage their retirement accounts.

According to the group TIAA Divest, the Teachers Insurance Annuity Association invests retirement assets in fossil fuel companies that can cause environmental destruction and also help to finance the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine. 

They control $1.3 trillion in assets – much of it in farmland and timberland – and are invested in corporations like Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Shell, and Haliburton, and have $174 million invested in Russian oil and gas companies such as Gazprom, Lukoil, and Rosneft. In total, they have more than $20 billion invested in fossil fuels.

Legislative Gazette photo by Daniel DiLorenzo

Yana, a student at SUNY New Paltz who was born in Poland spoke at the event and said that TIAA doesn’t just manage the pension funds for educators, it also manages the college fund for her four-year-old son. Yana explained that “our money is funding the company that is then responsible for funding the conflict in Ukraine that started two months ago and continues with an absolutely tragic humanitarian crisis.” She continued by saying, “If TIAA is investing in Russian companies then it means that the pensions and my son’s college funds come from the profits of the war.”

During an event outside of TIAA’s New York City headquarters on April 1, 2022, co-organizer of the national TIAA DIvest campaign, Iris Marie Bloom said “TIAA brands itself as an ethical company while its fossil fuel investments are lethal and environmentally racist, fueling war, poisoning the air, water, soil, and destroying our climate.”

The United Universities Profession Chapter President at SUNY New Paltz, Beth Wilson, spoke at the event to call on students to talk to their professors about whether or not they have retirement investments with TIAA. Wilson said the New Paltz chapter sponsored a resolution that was passed by the statewide union that includes more than 37,000 members that called on TIAA to disinvest from fossil fuels entirely by 2025. However, Wilson says that “TIAA is not listening.” Wilson continued by saying, “as someone looking to retire in a few years, I have zero interest in having my retirement on the backs of my students taking their future away from them.” 

TIAA has also contributed to financing the construction of the Cricket Valley Energy Center, a fracked gas power plant in Dover, Dutchess County. According to a report by the group TIAA Divest, TIAA invested about $400 million to finance the construction of Cricket Valley. 

The report said that “Cricket Valley is one of the largest natural gas power plants in the Northeast.” It continues by explaining that the plant is estimated to pump roughly six million tons of greenhouse gasses and thousands of tons of other toxic pollutants into the air annually. The continued operation of fracked gas power plants like the Cricket Valley Energy Center stands in blatant violation of the CLCPA, which was signed into law in July 2019 and calls on the state to reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

TIAA released its first Climate Report in January of 2022 in response to increasing pressure to divest from fossil fuel companies and other investments. However, a press release from the group TIAA Divest says that the report “does not mention halting or reversing TIAA’s ongoing investments in oil companies like Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Adani Group.”

According to an analysis of the report carried out by the group TIAA Divest, “TIAA shows no interest in stopping the harm that their continuing investments in fossil fuels cause.”

Tim Ginny, a member of TIAA Divest described TIAA as “a group that is willing to put your future at risk and is willing to risk the future of other people for profit and convenience. It’s time we say no to TIAA. We have to stop the climate crisis.”