The New York State Common Retirement Fund, Albany, has told 27 companies they have been put on an environmental watch list regarding their efforts to move away from mining thermal coal based on investment standards developed by the pension fund.
The companies account for about $98 million in aggregate investments in the $215.4 billion pension fund. The fund's executive director for corporate governance, Liz Gordon, wrote the companies in late December, asking for a response within 45 days.
"A failure to respond or a response that is insufficient in demonstrating transition readiness may result in the fund restricting investments" in these companies, she wrote in similar letters to each corporate target.
"If they don't meet minimum standards, divestment is the option," Matthew Sweeney, a spokesman for Thomas DiNapoli, the state comptroller and sole trustee of the pension fund, wrote in an email response to questions.
The pension fund identified the 27 companies because each derives 10% or more of revenue from thermal coal mining. Thermal coal is used by power plants "to produce electricity either directly for industries or to supply power grids," said a news release Wednesday from Mr. DiNapoli's office.
"Investors who fail to face the risks and seize the opportunities presented by climate change put their portfolios in jeopardy," Mr. DiNapoli said in the news release.
"We are assessing minimum standards for transition readiness at coal mining companies first, because they face the greatest risk as the world turns to cleaner and renewable energies," he added. "If a particular company is not ready to move away from its reliance on thermal coal mining for profits, we may divest our holdings in that company."
The companies include major U.S. producers such as Arch Coal Inc. and Peabody Energy Corp., as well as many Chinese and other Asian coal producers.
The letters reflect part of a climate action plan for the pension fund that Mr. DiNapoli announced in June. One feature is the continuing "engagement with portfolio companies to encourage and support climate risk management, strategic planning and reporting," according to the plan document summary.
Another was revising evaluations of external managers "to better assess the climate-related strategies of the fund's managers."
The climate action plan establishes a series of standards for companies' strategies to move from thermal coal mining "to businesses that are better aligned with a low carbon economy," Wednesday's press release said.
The plan identified several performance indicators, such as reduced thermal coal revenues and greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets outlined by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.