MONTPELIER >> Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin and state Treasurer Beth Pearce clashed Thursday over a call by the governor and some lawmakers for the state to divest its pension fund of stocks in coal companies and Exxon-Mobil as a way to encourage the fight against climate change.
At a Thursday news conference, the Democratic governor released a letter he wrote to the members of the Vermont Pension Investment Committee urging them to develop a divestment strategy and report back to the Legislature by May 2 on its progress.
"This is all good news," Shumlin said Thursday during a Statehouse news conference, when he also thanked House leaders for passing a resolution urging divestment and members of a Senate committee who signed a letter supporting the House resolution. "I think that today we all know that Vermont should not be owning coal stocks. We should get rid of Exxon-Mobil."
But Pearce, who also is a Democrat and a member of the Pension Committee, said in a letter distributed after Shumlin's news conference that the governor was drawing conclusions about possible future divestment before the issue had been studied.
Pearce said there were "substantive errors in the governor's press statements" and that the committee that will be studying divestment will provide an update on its discussions by the May 2 deadline.
"I find it unfortunate that we received a letter from the governor that outlines a deadline and a conclusion before any discussion of the scope of the analysis has taken place," Pearce's letter said, highlighting those comments in bold type.
In his January state-of-the-state speech, Shumlin, who is not seeking re-election in November, called for Vermont to divest from coal companies and Exxon-Mobil. He blames fossil fuels for global warming and says owning those stocks have become bad investments.
At the governor's urging, the Pension Committee voted last month to set up a subcommittee to study the issue. The subcommittee's first meeting is scheduled for Friday.
Pearce has said the Legislature should not be involving itself in investment decisions.
In her letter, Pearce said the committee would study the divestment issue "in an objective, thoughtful, and thorough manner that takes into consideration the fiduciary duty that is owed exclusively to the 50,000 members of the retirement system."
Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell said after Pearce released her letter that the governor and many members of the Legislature continue to believe Vermont should divest from coal stocks and Exxon-Mobil.
"The governor certainly hopes that VPIC will do the right thing and present to the Legislature a plan to divest from coal and Exxon Mobil at that time," Coriell said. "That shouldn't be surprising to anyone."