Dear Comptroller DiNapoli:
In 1882, when Thomas Edison flipped the switch on America’s first coal-fired power plant on Pearl Street in lower Manhattan, it is doubtful he had any idea that just over one hundred years later, coal companies would be destroying the Appalachian Mountains to keep New York’s bright lights burning.
By now, 500 mountains have been blown up and over 2,000 miles of streams have been buried as a result of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining. With heavy machinery and explosives taking the place of traditional mining labor, MTR diminishes biodiversity, increases the rates of floods, and poisons once pristine drinking water. Massey Energy, in which NY State Common Retirement Fund currently holds over 355,000 shares, is the principal company employing this method of mining. While we applaud your recent call for the resignation of Massey CEO Don Blankenship, we are now asking you to go a step further and divest fully from Massey stock.
Massey holds a truly delinquent record of environmental and safety offenses:
- 2000: Massey’s failure to contain their coal sludge impoundment in Martin County, KY leads to a sludge spill 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill
- 2008: Massey is charged with the largest civil penalty in the EPA’s history for wastewater discharge permit violations, paying out $20 million for their 1,500 violations
- 2009: Ten Massey mines, with above-average injury rates, receive 2,400 safety citations
- 2010: 29 coal miners are killed in an explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine
The 2010 Massey mine disaster was directly linked to the lack of unionization in the mine. United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard asserts that, “If these miners were members of a union, they would have been able to refuse unsafe work.” Massey Energy’s record of union-busting goes back more than 20 years when it started an eventually successful campaign to break the UMW of A in the coalfields of Appalachia. Today, only 1.8% of Massey’s work force is unionized. This contrasts strongly with New York State employees’ significant union power — power that has helped ensure their retirement benefits. New York State workers, especially its public employees, have a long and strong union history and would be proud to take a clear stand against Massey Energy.
In divesting, you would not be alone. In North Carolina, a bill has been introduced that would require the state to divest from Massey. In 2009, students at Santa Clara University in California convinced their administration to divest from Massey. And in Ohio, on May 29, 2010, President Gordon Gee of Ohio State University stepped down from his position on the Board of Massey Energy after receiving mounting pressure for his resignation.
Massey’s name, now closely associated with MTR and the most deadly mine disaster in the past 20 years, has turned as black as the coal they mine. Divesting from Massey would send a loud and clear message that the NY State Common Retirement Fund is concerned with both workers’ safety and an improved quality of life for all, making it a model of integrity, sound management and ethical investing throughout the country.
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