Brett Wilkins Climate Change Environment

‘Moral Failure’: California Dem Pulls Plug on Fossil Fuel Divestment Legislation

"This defeat is just a temporary setback," said one campaigner. "We will organize to come back stronger to make our demand for fossil fuel divestment heard because fossil fuel companies are driving us toward unimaginable disaster."
Young people participate in a demonstration for S.B. 1173, proposed state legislation in California that would force two of the state’s biggest pensions to divest from the fossil fuel industry. (Photo: Fossil Free California/Instagram)

By Brett Wilkins / Common Dreams

Climate, environmental, and social justice advocates on Tuesday condemned the decision by a Democratic California lawmaker to kill proposed legislation that would require two of the state’s leading pension funds to divest from the fossil fuel industry. 

“Today amidst a historic mega-drought, wildfires, and fossil-fueled public health crises, Assemblymember Jim Cooper, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Public Employment and Retirement, refused to allow Senate Bill 1173, California’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, to be heard in his committee,” Fossil Free California said in a statement. “This one-man veto allows the state’s pensions to continue to invest billions from public funds into the fossil fuel industry, for now.”

S.B. 1173 would have prohibited the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS)—the two largest public pension funds in the United States—from making or renewing investments in fossil fuel companies. The measure would also have required the pensions to liquidate their fossil fuel holdings by 2030. The two funds currently hold an estimated $9 billion in fossil fuel investments.

“This decision is a moral failure that disproportionately impacts young people, Indigenous communities, communities of color, and low-income communities,” the coalition asserted. “Climate chaos has already cost California billions in damages and health costs from fossil fuel pollution and climate disasters. Jim Cooper, who has just been elected Sacramento County Sheriff, has reported $36,350 in Big Oil campaign contributions from this election season alone.”

State Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-33) said in a statement that “while I am deeply disappointed that my Senate Bill 1173 was not set for a hearing in the Assembly Committee on Public Employment and Retirement this week, I remain committed to the necessary and ongoing fight against the impacts of climate change on our state, and especially those communities in my district that are disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of the climate crisis.”

“Teachers and state employees whose retirement futures are invested by our state’s pension funds have long demanded that CalPERS and CalSTRS cease investing their money in fossil fuel companies, and this demand will only grow stronger and louder,” she continued.

James Stone of the Southern California Divestment Network said that “today is a sad day in the history of California when the fossil fuel industry and its political allies defeated the will of the majority of CalSTRS and CalPERS beneficiaries and silenced the voices of the majority of the citizens of our great state.”

“This defeat is just a temporary setback, however. We will organize to come back stronger to make our demand for fossil fuel divestment heard because fossil fuel companies are driving us toward unimaginable disaster and neither CalSTRS and CalPERS management nor our elected representatives are doing enough to hold them accountable,” he added. “We must prevail because our common future is at stake.”

Marlay’ja Hackett, a 15-year-old activist with Youth vs. Apocalypse, asserted that “the fossil fuel industry doesn’t benefit low-income communities or people of color. We are never considered when they make decisions about their business.”

“It’s infuriating that our elected officials take huge donations from this industry,” she added, “and then turn around and deny young people, frontline communities, and our entire movement the chance to even make our case and have a fair vote.”

Lizbeth Ibarra, also of Youth vs. Apocalypse, added that “Jim Cooper just decided to continue investing public money in the unequal suffering of my community.”

“CalPERS and CalSTRS have been invested in these companies for decades, and during that time, their ‘engagement’ has come nowhere close to stopping the harm to my community or our world,” she continued. “Instead, fossil fuel companies have put billions into lies and disinformation to stop life-saving action on climate and pollution, and billions into exploiting more and more dangerous forms of fossil fuel extraction.”

“They’ve been responsible for causing sickness and death to the two million Californians who live within a mile of fossil fuel infrastructure, a disproportionate amount of whom are Black and Brown communities like mine,” Ibarra added. “Jim Cooper decided this injustice didn’t even deserve a vote.”

Brett Wilkins
Brett Wilkins

Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

4 comments

  1. Did Jim Cooper make a statement on his vote? I could make a guess based on his campaign donors, but I’m curious how he justified this one.

  2. Democracy in the United States, nationally and state, is a sham for several reasons not fully explained in high school civics courses.
    (1) The two-party system that squeezes out other parties which can lay on the table issues taboo to the Democrats and Republicans.
    (2) That committees, and party chairs in particular, can stymie a bill before it can be heard, studied, discussed by the chamber.
    (3) Winner take all. 51% can crush 49%. (U.S. Senate is perversely worse in that 41% can crush 59%).
    (4) Disincentive to vote when polls show your candidate has no chance.

  3. As someone who has lobbied Jim Cooper, I have nothing but vitriol for this corrupt, dishonest individual. He needs to never hold elected office again.

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