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Public Citizen Testimony Before the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking Performance Oversight

By Deanna Noël

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. My name is Deanna Noël and I’m the Climate Campaigns Director at Public Citizen, a national public interest advocacy organization based in Washington, DC with more than 500,000 members and supporters. I’d like to bring to the Council’s attention the insurance industry’s role in fueling climate change through its underwriting and financial support of the fossil fuel industry.

Here in DC, Travelers Insurance is the number one provider of homeowners and commercial insurance. Travelers is also one of the largest oil and gas insurers in the world, and has over $4 billion invested in fossil fuels. It currently does not limit support for conventional oil and gas-related projects, despite warnings from the International Energy Agency that we must stop all new oil and gas exploration and development to curb the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Travelers has been so slow to adopt climate policies that it’s at the center of an open congressional investigation in the Senate Budget Committee, looking into it and other major U.S. insurers’ climate-related lobbying and policies.

Travelers is putting DC residents at risk by participating in a vicious cycle of insuring and profiting off fossil fuel projects, and offloading costs to consumers. In DC, climate change shows up in the form of heavier rainfall, flooding, heat waves, and more. These and other climate-driven severe weather events can lead to catastrophic losses for families and entire communities, and the financial costs are staggering: last year alone the US experienced 28 billion-dollar or more climate-related disasters.

Several major insurers have announced that they will exit entire climate-vulnerable regions they deem too risky to insure. Consumers who were already paying high premiums are then left scrambling to find a new insurer or last-resort program that may only offer barebones coverage–if they can find insurance at all. U.S. home insurance premiums increased by 21% between May 2022 and May 2023 due to an increase in weather-related claims, and insurers have frequently cited climate change in their decision to withdraw from certain locations. And, insurers themselves are not immune to the impacts of climate change: Travelers faced over two billion dollars in climate-related losses last year alone.

Insurance companies claim to be society’s ‘risk managers’, yet Travelers is causing climate risk–and harm to–DC residents. I have a 3-year-old, and a 5-month-old who are both inheriting a world where insurance companies are actively insuring the fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel industry is an industry who, just like Big Tobacco, knew about the risks their products posed, covered up those risks, and spearheaded a decades-long misinformation campaign to deceive the public while they raked in billions in profit.

Travelers is complicit in these harms. Fossil fuel projects cannot operate without insurance. Travelers needs to drop support for the fossil fuel industry and stop putting DC residents in harm’s way.

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