TRENTON – Sen. Bob Smith sounded scared.
“I really think we’re in big trouble,” he said Thursday from his perch as chair of the Senate environmental committee. Later he said, “The clock is ticking.”
Smith commented just before the committee threw a punch – figuratively speaking – at the oil and gas industry. The committee voted along party lines to release a bill ordering the state to divest pension investments from the fossil fuel industry, Or more officially, to remove all pension assets from any of the “top 200 companies that hold the largest carbon content fossil fuel reserves.”
State pension assets are almost $93 billion, but it’s not known yet how much is invested with ExxonMobil and other oil companies. That calculation hasn’t been made yet, because the bill is just a proposal. It still needs to be approved by both houses and signed by the governor.
Climate change is always in the news, but more so these days after Hurricane Ian devastated southwest Florida. We have also seen raging wildfires and severe droughts in the west.
Smith said it’s important for the state to send a strong signal to the industry that it’s unhappy with the damage fossil fuel use is doing to the nation and world. He admitted that the subject was controversial.
Opponents who addressed the committee made one central point.
Why should New Jersey remove its funds and lose leverage with the industry? In other words, would it not be better for New Jersey to keep “a seat at the table” and encourage the industry to explore cleaner forms of energy?
Smith, in fact, said he recently visited an ExxonMobil research center in Clinton and was impressed with what he saw.
In voting “no,” Republican Jean Stanfield said she worried about “unintended consequences” of the state
removing its assets.
Fellow Republican Edward Durr agreed. He said the bill would put the state in a position of “picking winners and losers.”
Supporters of the bill responded that it is vital for the state to voice its disapproval of the fossil fuel industry. It was pointed out that New York State has divested its funds, and so has Princeton University. They also contended that in any circumstance New Jersey has limited leverage over multinational corporations.
While climate change remains a politically-charged subject, today’s discussion was without anyone calling the whole thing a hoax. That’s progress perhaps.
Durr, however, pointed out that oil has many uses besides running your car. Noting that it’s used to make many products, including clothes, he told one bill supporter that if not for oil, he’d be standing before the committee naked.
Levity is always appreciated.
Smith quipped that he had no need to contemplate the visual.