On April 5, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to support Senate Bill 1173 (Gonzalez/ Wiener), the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, now making its way through the California Legislature.
SB 1773 requires the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) public pension funds to divest from all fossil fuel holdings and prohibit any new investments or renewal of existing investments in fossil fuel businesses, according to a statement from LA City Councilmember Paul Koretz.
The council vote took place the day after the California Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee approved the bill by a 3-1 vote. Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) introduced the bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), in the State Legislature on February 17.
"The brand new IPCC report is unequivocal: it's now or never if we want to limit planetary warming to reasonably safe levels," said Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, author of the resolution to support SB 1173. "That means we need to immediately stop subsidizing the dangerously reckless fossil fuel industry. The pension systems are intended to provide workers a safe future. We need to provide those same workers that safe future with our investment decisions as well.”
“In the wake of the IPCC report and amidst the rapid worsening of climate impacts in Los Angeles, the State of California and elsewhere, including extreme heat, extreme storms and floods, extreme wildfires, and, locally, a deepening megadrought, the City has prioritized actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the furthest extent possible, as soon as possible,” according to Koretz. “In fact, the City has been reconfiguring its own relationship with the fossil fuel industry, including declaring local oil drilling a non-conforming land use and closely examining the LA City Employees Retirement System Investments (CF#19-1577).”
CalSTRS and CalPERS, the largest non-federal pension funds in the country, have over $9 billion invested in fossil fuel companies and related energy sector industries. CalSTRS has about $469 billion in assets, while CalPERS has $327 billion in assets. A recent report estimates that out of these funds CalPERS invests $5.5 billion in fossil fuel companies and CalSTRS invests $3.4 billion.
“Existing law already prohibits the boards of the CA Public Employees' Retirement System and the State Teachers’ Retirement System from making new or renewing existing investments in thermal coal,” noted Koretz. “SB 1173 will continue that trajectory away from fossil fuel investment.”
Koretz said financial divestment from problematic countries or companies has proven to be an “effective advocacy tool to achieve climate-related goals,” noting that the climate mitigation-related fossil fuel divestment movement has already achieved nearly $40 trillion in commitments to full or partial divestment from coal, gas, and oil stocks, including enormous pension funds serving both New York City and State employees’ endowments, portfolios, and pension funds.
For decades, predominately black and brown, low income communities in Los Angeles County, Kern County and other counties have suffered from the harmful health effects of living in communities surrounded by oil and gas wells in California, a state that styles itself as a “green” and “progressive” leader but still does not have setbacks from oil and gas wells like other states like Colorado, Pennsylvania, North Dakota and even Texas do.
For Nalleli Cobo of Los Angeles, the need for divestment from fossil fuel companies is very personal. When the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) met publicly with advocates of fossil fuel divestment at a virtual Sustainability Symposium on February 9, Cobo shared her experience growing up near an oil well.
“My health declined,” she testified. “I started getting body spasms so severe I couldn’t move. My mom would have to carry me from one place to another. At the age of 19, I was diagnosed with stage 2 cancer.”
“It’s important that teachers’ money doesn’t go to killing kids, it doesn’t go to damaging their organs or their health; it goes to protecting them and guaranteeing a beautiful life for them,” Cobo said.
The co-sponsors of the bill are the California Faculty Association (Co-sponsor) and and Fossil Free California (Co-sponsor). A wide coalition of environmental justice, indigenous, climate, environmental public health and public interest groups, ranging from Alliance of Nurses from a Healthy Environment to Youth Vs. Apocalypse, is supporting the bill.
The opposition includes the California Independent Petroleum Association, California Professional Firefighters, California State Teachers' Retirement System, International Union of Operating Engineers, Cal-Nevada Conference, Peace Officers Research Association of California, State Building & Construction Trades Council of California and the Western States Petroleum Association, the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in California.
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System argues that bill would hurt the fund’s current efforts to “engage” fossil fuels on the transition to a “low-carbon world.”
“By requiring the largest public pension funds in the United States to divest from fossil fuel companies, this bill would severely hinder the future success of institutional investor collaborations to effect meaningful change in the fossil fuel industry. In addition, by limiting engagement and requiring divestment, this bill would ignore CalSTRS’ exposure to the broader economy and undermine efforts to reduce emissions and transition to a low-carbon world. The risks associated with climate change cannot simply be divested away,” CalSTRS contends.
On the other hand, the California Fossil Fuel Divestment Coalition argues that the time to divest from “climate chaos” is now.
“We have experienced unprecedented and continuing wildfires, droughts, flooding, ah atnd other extreme weather events. Yet, as the state of California burns, teachers’ and public employees’ retirement money is still being invested in climate chaos. If carbon emissions aren’t drastically cut in the next 10 years, there is virtually no chance of avoiding climate disasters that will lead to mass death and displacement. CalSTRS’ and CalPERS’ continued investment in fossil fuels is physically and mentally damaging to students, retirees, and public employees,” the Coalition states.
Below is the complete list of bill supporters:
California Faculty Association (Co-sponsor)
Fossil Free California (Co-sponsor)
1000 Grandmothers for Future Generations
350 Bay Area
350 Bay Area Action
350 Butte County
350 Conejo / San Fernando Valley
350 Humboldt: Grass Roots Climate Action
350 Silicon Valley
350 South Bay Los Angeles
350 Southland Legislative Alliance
350 Ventura County Climate Hub
Active San Gabriel Valley
Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments
Asian Pacific Environmental Network
Atmos Financial, Pbc
Bay Area Youth Climate Action Team
Black Women for Wellness
California Environmental Voters (formerly Clcv)
California Interfaith Power & Light
California Nurses for Environmental Health and Justice
California State Treasurer
Change Begins With Me
Citizens Climate Lobby
City of Long Beach
Clean Water Action
Climate Action Santa Monica
Climate Equity Policy Center
Climate First: Replacing Oil & Gas (CFROG)
Climate Hawks Vote
Climate Health Now
Climate Psychiatry Alliance
Coalition for A California Green New Deal
Conejo Climate Coalition
Dayenu Circle At the Orchard
Defenders of Wildlife
Direct Action Everywhere
Elected Officials to Protect America - California
Environmental Working Group
Families Advocating for Chemical and Toxics Safety
Feminists in Action
Friends Committee on Legislation of California
Green Party of Santa Clara County CA
Harmony Union Teachers Association
Indivisible Alta Pasadena
Indivisible Beach Cities
Indivisible California Green Team
Indivisible Normal Heights
Indivisible Ross Valley
Indivisible San Jose
Indivisible Sonoma County
Indivisible South Bay LA
Let's Green Ca!
Local Clean Energy Alliance
Long Beach Alliance for Clean Energy
Northern California District Council of The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU)
Pacifica Climate Committee
Physicians for Social Responsibility - Los Angeles
Physicians for Social Responsibility - Sacramento Chapter
Physicians for Social Responsibility - San Francisco Bay Area Chapter
Rooted in Resistance
San Diego 350
Santa Barbara Standing Rock Coalition
Santa Cruz Climate Action Network
Sierra Club California
Sonoma County Transportation Authority
Sunrise Movement San Diego
The Climate Center
The Greenlining Institute
Tiaa Divest! From Climate Destruction
Udw/afscme Local 3930
Youth Climate Strike Los Angeles
Youth Vs. Apocalypse
Background: Big Oil’s Grip on Sacramento
The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, has spent over $17.5 million alone lobbying the California Legislature and other state officials over the past three years.
In 2021, WSPA spent $4,397,004 lobbying legislators and state officials to serve Big Oil's agenda, according to data filed with California Secretary of State’s Office.
The association spent $957,137 on lobbying in the fourth quarter of 2021. The money went to an array of in-house lobbyists and outside lobbying firms, topped by Ramball Environ in Philadelphia that received $116,981 in the fourth quarter and $366,864 in 2021.
WSPA spent a total of $8.8 million in 2019 and $4,267,181 in 2020 on lobbying California legislators and officials as thousands of oil and gas drilling permits were approved by CalGEM, the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency: www.citywatchla.com/...
In 2020, even a weak bill recommending health and safety setbacks around oil and gas failed to get through the oil industry-friendly California Legislature.
Then in 2021, another stronger bill, SB 467, failed to pass throughout the legislature because of heavy oil industry lobbying of legislators, including those who had received big campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. The bill would have banned fracking by 2023 eliminating fracking and instituting mandatory health and safety zones between oil and gas extraction and places where Californians live, work, and study.
The inordinate influence by Big Oil on California politicians and regulators is most dramatically evidenced by the approval of thousands of new and reworked onshore oil and gas well permits by CalGEM, the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency, since Newsom took office in January 2019.
On the same day the LA City Council voted to ban oil and gas wells in city limits, Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance reported at www.NewsomWellWatch.org that Governor Newsom has approved 10,212 oil drilling permits since he assumed office in 2019. The total is nearly identical to the number of permits Governor Jerry Brown approved in his first three years.
Lobbying is just one of the seven methods that Big Oil uses in California to exercise inordinate influence over California regulators. WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 7 major ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) serving on and putting shills on regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups; (5) working in collaboration with media; (6) creating alliances with labor unions; and (7) contributing to non profit organizations.
In one glaring example of oil and gas industry officials serving on regulatory panels, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California from 2009 to 2012, as well as serving on the task forces to create “marine protected areas” on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast from 2004 to 2012.