Daily Kos: State Senator Lena Gonzalez Introduces Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill in CA Legislature

February 17, 2022

By Dan Bacher

On February 17, Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) introduced a bill in the California Legislature that would mandate that California’s public pension funds stop investing in fossil fuel companies.
SB1173, the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, would require these state pension funds to make no new investments in fossil fuel companies and to divest existing fossil fuel investments by June 2027. Senator Scott Weiner (D-Sacramento), is co-sponsoring the bill.  
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (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.   
For decades, predominately black and brown, low income communities 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.
Likewise, Lizbeth Ibarra, a 17 year old climate activist who grew up near the Chevron refinery in Richmond, asked CalSTRS, “How much more does my community have to suffer, how much does my future have to be in question for you to decide that your moral responsibility is to pull support from those causing the suffering?”
“Do teachers know that you’re investing their money in supporting destructive projects, from Line 3 to the East Africa crude oil pipeline?” she stated.
Accompanying the introduction of the bill, Gonzalez held a press conference Thursday that featured Miriam Eide, Coordinating Director, Fossil Free California; Carlos Davidson, Professor Emeritus, San Francisco State University and California Faculty Association member; Raven Fonseca Jensen, Member, Youth vs Apocalypse;  
Senator Gonzalez, who as a mother of three and a resident of a district where residents suffer from exposure to toxics, knows first hand about the impacts of fossil fuel corporations on frontline communities.