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California Assemblyman Kills Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill

By Nick Cunningham - DeSmog, June 28, 2022

The California legislature was close to passing a bill that would require the state’s two massive pension funds to divest from fossil fuels, but on June 21 the legislation was killed by one Democratic assemblyman who has accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the energy industry.

Senate Bill 1173 would have required the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), the two largest public pension funds in the country, to divest from fossil fuels. CalPERS and CalSTRS, which manage pensions for state employees and teachers, together hold more than $9 billion in fossil fuel investments.

The global divestment movement now claims that more than 1,500 institutions have divested from fossil fuels, representing more than $40 trillion in value. New York and Maine have also committed to phasing out fossil fuel investments from their public pensions.

But because of the size of the two California pension funds, their divestment from fossil fuels would be a significant achievement for the global movement. The call comes as the state continues to suffer from long-term drought and catastrophic wildfires that are worsening with climate change. Activists say that the state cannot claim to be a leader on climate action while maintaining billions of dollars’ worth of investments in the fossil fuel industry.

Senate Bill 1173 would have required the pension funds to divest by 2027, and the legislation had the support of the California Faculty Association, the California Federation of Teachers, associations representing higher education faculty, and roughly 150 environmental and activist organizations. 

However, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-backed front group with ties to the oil industry, opposed the bill, warning that divesting from fossil fuels would put public sector pensions in financial jeopardy.

The bill already passed the state senate, and still needed to pass in the state assembly, where Democrats command a large majority. But the bill needed to move through the Committee on Public Employment and Retirement, where Democrat Jim Cooper (Sacramento) is Chairman. 

On June 21, Cooper decided to let the bill die in committee, refusing to even bring it up for a hearing. Environmental groups denounced the “one-man veto.” Cooper has accepted more than $36,000 from the oil industry and other polluters over the past two years, including donations from Chevron and ExxonMobil, according to data compiled by Sierra Club, which called him a “Democratic favorite of the oil and gas industry.” 

“Jim Cooper just decided to continue investing public money in the unequal suffering of my community,” said Lizbeth Ibarra, an activist with Youth vs. Apocalypse, a California-based climate justice organization.

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

By Brett Wilkins - Common Dreams, June 21, 2022

"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."

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.

America’s Biggest Public Pension Fund Is Slow-Walking Corporate Climate Action, Report Charges

By Sharon Kelly - DeSmog, June 16, 2022

CalPERS says it needs to hold onto billions in fossil fuel shares in order to push polluters in the right direction – but a new report details a pattern of voting against climate proposals.

Does engaging with oil and gas giants by remaining invested in them – keeping a “seat at the table” – help in the fight against climate change? 

A new report suggests not very much – at least judging by the record of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).

The report by environmental group Fossil Free California takes the public pension fund to task for its results to date, highlighting its history of pushing “the importance of corporate engagement on climate change” in public statements, while simultaneously voting against climate measures in shareholder meetings.

The report details dozens of votes against climate measures by CalPERS this year — including votes against greenhouse gas reduction targets at Royal Dutch Shell, against reporting and reducing greenhouse gas emissions at BP, and against pushing big banks to get in line with international “net zero by 2050” strategies.

In fact, CalPERS has voted against every climate resolution at major American and Canadian banks so far this year, the report claims.

The report also casts doubt on one of the biggest accomplishments of CalPERS’ engagement strategy – the election of several new members to ExxonMobil’s board of directors last year, nominated by the activist investment firm Engine No. 1. The report faults Engine No. 1’s directors for voting against two recent proposals to set greenhouse gas targets that would account for the pollution caused by the fossil fuels ExxonMobil sells, and to produce a report on low-carbon business plans.

“Despite their best efforts, CalPERS and [California’s other major pension fund] CalSTRS have failed to persuade fossil fuel companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, increase their renewable energy production, or transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy,” the report concludes. “By opposing climate proposals at the very companies they claim to influence, the funds’ shareholder activism is not only ineffective – it’s undermining climate action.” 

California lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would spur these pension funds, which invest retirement funds for state employees – including many, like the state’s firefighters, who are today on the front lines of the climate crisis – to drop their investments in fossil fuel producers.

The fund has an estimated $7.4 billion worth of fossil fuel investments that the bill would require them to shed. In April, its board voted to oppose that law, arguing that it would lose its “seat at the table,” only to be replaced by investors that “may not have the same interest in long-term sustainability as CalPERS”..

CalPERS declined comment on Fossil Free California’s new report.

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(Video) A Climate Jobs Plan for Rhode Island

By various - ILR Worker Institute - March 4, 2022

On Friday, March 4, researchers from Cornell University joined with leaders of the Climate Jobs RI coalition, a group of labor, climate, and community groups in Rhode Island, and discussed a new report unveiled last month that outlined a comprehensive action plan to put RI on the path to becoming the first fully decarbonized state and building an equitable, pro-worker, clean energy economy.

Watch the panel here:

Fossil Fuel Phaseout–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2022

Protecting the climate requires rapidly reducing the extraction of fossil fuels. That’s a crucial part of the Green New Deal. While the federal government has done little so far to reduce fossil fuel production, people and governments all over the country are taking steps on their own to cut down the extraction of coal, oil, and gas.

Introduction

The U.S. needs to cut around 60% of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 to reach zero net emissions by 2050.[1] The world will need to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6% per year between 2022 and 2030 to reach the Paris goal of 1.5°C. Countries are instead planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2%, which by 2030 will result in more than double the production consistent with the 1.5°C limit.[2]

In the previous two commentaries in this series we have shown how initiatives from cities, states, and civil society organizations are expanding climate-safe energy production and reducing energy use through energy efficiency and conservation. These are essential aspects of reducing climate-destroying greenhouse gas emissions, but in themselves they will not halt the burning of fossil fuels. That requires action on the “supply side” – freezing new fossil fuel infrastructure and accelerating the closing of existing production facilities. That is often referred to as a “phaseout” or “managed decline” of fossil fuels.

Such a phaseout of fossil fuel production is necessary to meet the goals of the Green New Deal and President Joe Biden’s climate proposals. The original 2018 Green New Deal resolution submitted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for a national 10-year mobilization to achieve 100% of national power generation from renewable sources. Biden’s Build Back Better plan sought 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035 and net zero GHG emissions by 2050. These goals cannot be met without reducing the amount of fossil fuel that is actually extracted from the earth.[3]

While the US government and corporations are failing to effectively reduce the mining and drilling of fossil fuels, hundreds of efforts at a sub-national level are already cutting their extraction. 50 US cities are already powered entirely by clean and renewable sources of energy. 180 US cities are committed to 100% clean energy.[4] According to a report by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International, Indigenous resistance has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions.[5] Such reductions are an essential part of a widespread but little-recognized movement we have dubbed the “Green New Deal from Below.”[6]

Statement on UN IPCC Climate Report

By staff - Climate Justice Alliance, March 1, 2022

Climate Justice Alliance Calls on White House, Congress, UN to Center Frontline Wisdom/Solutions & Reject False Techno Fixes Accelerating Climate Change

We must keep fossil fuels in the ground; If we take anything away from Part 2 of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment, that should be it. Like so many times before, once again we find ourselves calling on the White House and Congress, and all world leaders to act boldly and courageously to reduce and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions at their source.

As Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) Co-Executive Director, Ozawa Bineshi Albert pointed out after participating in the most recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), “we must act with an urgency that is not happening now and we need community leaders experiencing harm to lead with solutions.”

Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of the working group that issued the report explains, “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet… Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.

However, we cannot rely on unproven fossil fuel industry backed, techno-fixes and market schemes that are really just band-aid approaches to solving the climate crisis: practices that do not guarantee a reduction or elimination of emissions at their source, such as geoengineering approaches like carbon capture and storage, solar radiation management, carbon removal and the like. We must safeguard Earth and all her creatures for generations to come. That means stopping the harm that continues to pollute her for future generations. We must center frontline solutions that are grounded in a Just Transition as we move away from the dig, burn, and dump economy to local, community-controlled renewable and regenerative models that reduce emissions while building community wealth and justice at every turn. 

Together with 1,140 organizations and as a part of the Build Back Fossil Free Coalition in a letter issued last week, we called on President Biden to use his Executive powers to immediately 1) ban all new oil and gas contracts on federal areas, 2) stop approving fossil fuel projects, and 3) declare a climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act that will unlock special powers to fast track renewable projects that will benefit us all.

Additionally, as this report rightly points out, the United States must pay its fair share as the major culprit of climate change and heed the traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples as we craft real solutions and reject false ones that will only serve to accelerate climate chaos in Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, and other low-income and vulnerable communities. We must invest in mitigation and adaptation resources for all frontline communities, in the Global South, and all other nations immediately. 

At the same time that the United Nations was preparing to craft this damning report on the fossil fuel industry, the largest delegation of badged participants at the COP26 were fossil fuel lobbyists. Only a few from vulnerable and most impacted communities were allowed in. This is unacceptable – the UN must end rules that restrict and keep out those most impacted by climate change from fully participating in future climate change conferences. Finally, we call on the UN to end its long practice of bowing to pressure from fossil corporations and member nations aligned with them, and reject false solutions that enable polluters to continue business as usual while doing nothing to stop emissions at their source.

This most recent IPCC Assessment focuses on impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation. An upcoming section in April will focus on ways to reduce emissions, and the final part will present lessons to member states during the next Climate Change Conference (COP27) to be held in Egypt. If the nations of the world truly want to solve the climate crisis they will heed the calls of those most impacted and look to them to lead rather than those who created the crisis in the first place; here in the United States that looks like addressing this issue as the emergency that it already is.

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