The Washington Post: Bills in blue states target the fossil fuel industry for climate damage

May 31, 2022

By Maxine Joselow

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! We hope you had a great Memorial Day weekend. Today in bizarre climate news, we’re reading about how a man disguised as an old woman threw cake at the glass protecting the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and shouted at people to think of planet Earth. But first:

Bills in blue states target the fossil fuel industry for climate damage

Democratic lawmakers in two of the nation’s most populous states are pushing legislation to punish the fossil fuel industry for its apparent role in causing droughts, wildfires and other disasters exacerbated by climate change.

In California, the state Senate last week passed a measure that would prohibit the state’s public pension funds from investing in the largest oil, gas and coal companies within a decade.

And in New York, Democratic lawmakers last week introduced a bill that would require the biggest fossil fuel firms to help pay for infrastructure investments necessary to adapt to mounting climate disasters.

The action in both blue states comes as Democrats in Congress continue to struggle to pass President Biden’s stalled Build Back Better Act, including its investment in combating climate change and boosting clean energy.

Here’s what to know about both bills — and whether they could pass before the end of their respective legislative sessions:

California eyes pension divestment

Senate Bill 1173, California’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, would require the state’s public pension funds to divest from the 200 largest fossil fuel companies by 2030. The funds would need to report annually on their divestment progress starting in 2024.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System are the two biggest public pension funds in the country, with an estimated $9 billion invested in oil, gas and coal.

If passed, the measure would prevent the retirement savings of the state’s teachers, firefighters, and other public employees from being used to finance fossil fuels at a time when California faces climate-change-driven extreme drought and a relentless wildfire season.

California can’t be investing in the very thing that is to our detriment,” Majority Whip Lena Gonzalez, a Democrat who co-sponsored the bill, told The Climate 202. “So this bill makes a big statement, but it also puts our money where our mouth is.”

While the state Senate passed the bill on Wednesday by a vote of 21 to 10, the state Assembly has yet to consider the measure. There’s still time to pass the bill before Aug. 31, when California’s legislative session ends, but the proposal could face hurdles in the Assembly’s Committee on Public Employment and Retirement, where Chair Jim Cooper (D) has signaled opposition to divestment as a concept, Gonzalez said.

Cooper’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, a debate has surfaced over the costs of divestment. CalPERS has said it would cost between $75 million and $100 million to sell the stocks named in the bill, while CalSTRS has said divestment would potentially incur a $20 billion loss for the fund. But Fossil Free California, an environmental group, accused the two public pension funds of presenting “wildly exaggerated” cost estimates in a recent report.

The numbers reported to the Senate Appropriations Committee last month were “absolutely ridiculous,” Miriam Eide, coordinating director of Fossil Free California, told The Climate 202. 

A CalPERS spokeswoman said in an email that while the pension fund recognizes the risks of climate change and has a “strong commitment” to reducing emissions, “as a global investor with a fiduciary duty to its members and employer partners, CalPERS does not believe that divestment is an effective solution to this problem.”

Read the full article online here.