This week the California State Senate made history, passing SB 185 by a large margin, 22–14. The bill calls for the nation’s two largest state pension funds, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), to divest from thermal coal. The bill now moves to the California State Assembly.
Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (at podium in photo, with Senator Fran Pavley) introduced SB 185 as one of thirteen bills in the Climate Leadership Package, all of which passed the Senate on June 3. It is the first piece of government legislation in the US that would compel public pension funds to divest their holdings from fossil fuels—signaling major momentum for divestment campaigners in California. And it was followed today by the passage of a similar coal divestment bill by the Norwegian Parliament.
“Investing in coal is simply not worth the risks,” said Senator de León. “We have a moral obligation to protect our children, as well as an economic imperative to get out of this sinking asset. I am pleased that my colleagues have approved SB 185, and I look forward to working with the Assembly and Governor Brown to ensure it is signed into law.”
The push for SB 185 has won major momentum in recent weeks, beginning with a strong endorsement from the California Democratic Party, and continuing with a joint letter of support signed by many health organizations, including the American Lung Association, Health Care Without Harm, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.
“It’s gratifying that California is taking this important step first—not because we want to be number one, but because we know the rest of the world is watching what happens here,” said Janet Cox of Fossil Free California. “CalPERS and CalSTRS are leaders among public pension funds. They are well-respected and financially massive, and their actions also attract a lot of global attention. Let’s hope this action will inspire other states and other governments to legislate divestment from fossil fuels that threaten everyone’s well-being.”
The Fossil Free California coalition, which includes 350 Bay Area, other local 350 groups around the state, Go Fossil Free, and other allies in the climate movement, will next work to ensure that SB 185 passes in the Assembly and is signed by Governor Brown. Divesting CalPERS and CalSTRS from coal will be a significant first step toward purging these public portfolios completely from investments in the fossil fuel companies that are destroying our environment.
Morally, it’s the right thing to do. Financially, it’s the smart thing to do.