Since Sludge first reported in December 2018 that Rep. Joe Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) trust funds owned more than a million dollars worth of fossil fuel company stock, the congressman, who is running a primary against Green New Deal author Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), has been dogged by questions about the investments.
This week, the Kennedy campaign stated publicly for the first time that the trusts sold their investments in the fossil fuel industry at the end of May.
As of his most recent financial disclosure, Kennedy owned as much as $1.75 million worth of stock in fossil fuel companies including Chevron, Exxon, and NextEra Energy. Kennedy is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy, which has jurisdiction over fossil fuels and all laws and regulations impacting national energy policy.
Climate justice groups such as the Sunrise Movement criticized the oil and gas investments in the family wealth of Kennedy, a beneficiary of the trusts. “That’s gonna be a no from us, dawg,” Sunrise Movement wrote on Twitter. “We’ll take the original co-sponsor of the #GreenNewDeal, because we need real climate champions, not a vanity campaign from a legacy kid with $1.75 million dollars in fossil fuel investments.”
Kennedy’s opponent in the September 1 primary, Sen. Ed Markey, is the chief sponsor of the Senate version of the Green New Deal resolution. Markey has been endorsed by the House Green New Deal sponsor, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Kennedy is an original co-sponsor of the bill.
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Kennedy first made public the divestment in response to a question on Wednesday night during a virtual youth forum hosted by Boston Climate Strike, an organization of young climate justice activists, and the gun safety group March for Our Lives. In response to a question about his independence in advancing climate protections while holding fossil fuel investments, Kennedy added, “Those assets have been divested months ago,” Boston.com reported.
Notably, neither Kennedy’s Senate campaign nor his U.S. House office put out an official announcement regarding his family trust’s fossil fuel divestment this week. No press release was posted on either of the two websites, and no mention is to be found on the two Twitter accounts.
In a statement to Sludge this evening, Kennedy campaign communications director Emily Kaufman wrote, “Congressman Kennedy was formally notified of these divestments last month. He has never exercised any control over his family trusts, but fully supports the decision to divest.” The divestment from oil and gas companies is expected to be reflected in Kennedy’s annual financial disclosure next year.
According to Kennedy’s 2019 filing, his trust owned Chevron stock worth between $100,001 and $250,000, ExxonMobil stock worth between $500,002 and $1 million, Schlumberger stock worth between $15,001 and $50,000, and NextEra Energy stock worth between $150,002 and $350,000.
Kennedy’s trusts also hold between $15,001 and $50,000 worth of stock in Berkshire Hathaway, which owns natural gas and coal companies and recently acquired $9.7 billion worth of natural gas assets from Dominion Energy. The trust purchased the Berkshire Hathaway stock in December 2019 and did not sell it along with the other fossil fuel stocks, according to the Boston.com report. The assets acquired include four Dominion-owned pipeline businesses (Dominion Energy Transmission, Questar Pipeline, Carolina Gas Transmission and half of Iroquois Gas Transmission System) and 25 % of Cove Point LNG, a liquefied natural gas storage facility, according to a report from Observer.
Sludge’s initial review in December 2018 found that Kennedy owned up to $2.2 million worth of stock in companies in the oil and gas industry, part of an examination of the personal financial investments of members of the House Energy Committee’s Energy and Environment subcommittees. Nearly a year later, as Kennedy floated his primary challenge, a Sludge review found that Kennedy continued to own as much as $1.75 million in fossil fuel investments.
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In September 2019, Kennedy was asked in an interview with WAMC Northeast Public Radio about Sludge’s findings, and sought to distance his family trust’s investments from the Big Oil companies that spends billions of dollars on misinformation campaigns and public relations against environmental regulations and the transition to renewable energy.
“My personal holdings don’t have those,” Kennedy, a trust beneficiary, told WAMC, “and I stand by an extremely strong record of advocating for climate protection, environmental protection against climate change, and again, as an original co-sponsor of the Green New Deal.”
Kennedy’s family investments in oil and gas giants were raised again in a profile in The Nation in January 2020 and in a February 2020 debate with Boston-area public radio station WGBH, where Kennedy responded to the question of why he didn’t divest, “It hasn’t influenced my votes in Congress.”
Kennedy’s announcement is the second time a report on Sludge preceded divestment of fossil fuel industry stock by a member of Congress. In January 2019, Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), the newly-appointed chair of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, sold her shares in a mutual fund with holdings in oil-, gas-, and coal-fired utility companies, after a Sludge article uncovered up to $100,000 invested by Castor and her husband.
At the time, Castor’s press secretary told Sludge that the divestment was intended “to build confidence in her leadership of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.”
A major 2018 report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that global carbon pollution would have to be cut by 45% by 2030 and reduced to zero by 2050 to mitigate the worst effects of catastrophic climate degradation, including extreme heat, drought, floods, and poverty.
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