Public pension fund divestment bill killed in state assembly

In what critics denounce as a “one-man veto,” a Sacramento-area assemblyman killed state legislation that would have required two powerful public employee pension funds to withdraw to the minus $9 billion in investment from fossil fuel companies.

Assemblyman Jim Cooper, chairman of the Public Employment and Retirement Committee, withdrew SB-1173 Tuesday from Wednesday’s committee hearings, removing the bill from consideration in the lower house.

The state Senate had already passed the bill, raising hopes among supporters that California’s public employee retirement system and California state teachers’ retirement system would soon join about 1,500 others. public institutions around the world that have pledged to divest fossil fuel assets totaling more than $40. trillion, according to and

Cooper, D-Elk Grove, said in a written statement that he has always opposed “political divestment proposals” that could “jeopardize the overall financial solvency” of a critical system for so many.

“It’s no secret that inflation and the cost of living are hitting the wallets of all Californians hard, but working families and people on fixed incomes like our public service retirees are feeling the pinch even more. the effects,” Cooper wrote. “With a recession looming, the legislature should seek ways to protect the solvency of our pension systems and should not consider proposals that adversely affect them.”

Proponents of the bill, however, say divestment is not only the right thing to do for the planet and for future generations, but is also fiscally responsible. They say investments in resources that are not yet extracted could find themselves stranded in a changing economy that increasingly favors greener energy sources.

Many of those who supported the bill live on the North Shore, where local educators have taken the lead in efforts to build support for divestment within the California Teachers Association, whose members’ pensions are invested by CalPERS. .

Among them is Sunny Galbraith, a chemistry and independent studies teacher at the Orchard View school in Sevastopol. Even if it failed, she said, the campaign to pass the legislation at least raised the profile of the divestment movement and brought people on board for the next time.

“In my experience tracking bills and getting things done in the legislature, it often takes a few cycles for something to pass,” she said. “There’s definitely been a lot of momentum created.”

The decision to bypass the bill has drawn heavy criticism from many who want to see the two pension funds channel dollars invested in fossil fuel-related activities into climate solutions.

Many cited a May Sierra Club report identifying Cooper as “a Democratic frontrunner in the oil and gas industry” that brought in $36,350 in contributions from fossil fuel interests during the last election cycle. Only 10 of 120 state lawmakers reported receiving more than $30,000, the Sierra Club said.

It brought in more than $218,000 in donations from the oil and gas sectors as a whole, according to

“It’s no surprise that our greatest impediment to reducing the political influence of the fossil fuel industry in California and beyond is exactly that – the stranglehold that Big Oil has on our political systems and our representatives,” said CJ Koepp, communications coordinator at Fossil Free. California. “Although progress on the bill has been cut short this session, our youth-led coalition has already achieved so much and we will come back next year stronger than ever.”

About two dozen, mostly young people of color, from an organization called Youth Vs. Apocalypse protested Wednesday by standing silently for 6 1/2 minutes with their hands painted red raised in the back of the committee meeting room at the State Capitol. Paper placards on protesters’ shirts began with the same message, ‘Harvesting fossil fuels is investing’, and ended with words like ‘genocide’, ‘destroying our planet’, ‘murder’ and “the end of life”. .”

Koepp said divestment advocates would increase their pressure on the boards of CalSTRS and CalPERS, which are independent organizations whose leadership has resisted calls for divestment on the grounds that it poses too much risk to pensions.

The two funds represent approximately 3 million active and retired California public school teachers, college instructors, state and local employees. Together they have investment assets totaling $751 billion, including what was reported in February to be around $9.9 billion in the Carbon Underground 200, companies with the greatest potential for future emissions from coal, oil and gas reserves.

You can reach editor Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or [email protected] On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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