BREAKING: California fossil fuel divestment bill passes first Senate Committee hearing

SACRAMENTO – Today, SB 252 – a widely-supported bill for CalPERS and CalSTRS to phase out fossil fuel investments – passed its first Committee hearing in the California State Senate. After a morning rally in front of the Capitol Swing Space building, the SB 252 segment of the hearing started at 11:00. After expert statements from bill author Senator Lena Gonzalez, Dr. Clair Brown of UC Berkeley, and Ron Rapp of the California Faculty Association, the committee opened the floor to over fifteen minutes of phone call testimony, which exclusively featured Californians supporting SB252.  

Four Senate committee members voted Aye, referring the bill to the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday April 18. This momentum for public pension divestment comes as Californians recover from record-shattering floods, while also girding themselves for ever-lengthening wildfire seasons in the Western U.S. – climate impacts directly caused by the extraction, transportation, and burning of fossil fuels.

Miriam Eide, Coordinating Director, Fossil Free California, issued the following statement:

“We have the momentum to pass SB 252, and protect workers, pension members, and California communities. This vote is a massive testament to the power of unions and the power of Californians when we come together across our differences to unite for our collective future. We offer our sincere thanks to the visionary climate leadership Senator Lena Gonzalez, as well as the Committee members who voted in support: Senators Cortese, Smallwood-Cuevas, Durazo, and Laird.

“We are counting on the climate leadership of California’s Senate, Assembly, and Governor Newsom. It’s time for California’s elected officials to listen to working Californians, unions, and constituents – not the fossil fuel lobby, or those entities whose positions are driven by the fossil fuel lobby.  When considering fiduciary responsibility over CalPERs and CalSTRS pension funds; the stability and growth of those funds; and the well-being of pension beneficiaries and California communities, fossil fuel divestment is the only prudent course of action. For California and for our public investments, it’s not a matter of if, but when, we go fossil-free.” 

The vote was near-unanimous, with Yes votes from:

  • Senator Dave Cortese (D), Chair, District 15, Santa Clara County/Silicon Valley
  • Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D), District 28, West Los Angeles, Culver City
  • Senator Maria Elena Durazo (D), District 26, Central Los Angeles, East Hollywood, East LA
  • Senator John Laird (D), District 17, Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo Counties 

Miguel Alatorre, Fossil Free California, added:

“This bill is deeply personal for me, my family, and my community. I am the third generation in my family working for environmental justice throughout the Central Valley. I go to work every day in the shadow of oil and gas extraction infrastructure at the Kettleman North Dome Oil Field. And with climate-fueled record rainfall this year, driven by increasingly intense atmospheric rivers, my home was seriously threatened by the sudden resurgence and flooding of Tulare Lake. The people impacted most directly by fossil fuel pollution and climate-fueled extreme weather events are Californians like me: Latinx folks, Black communities, youth, elders, workers (including farmworkers), and union members who were promised a secure retirement. How is your retirement secure when your home is on fire? How is your retirement secure when you can’t breathe the air outside?

“We have the opportunity to build a California where all of us can thrive – teachers, students, firefighters, union members, fenceline communities, and pension beneficiaries.  The best time for public pension divestment was ten years ago. The second best time is 2023. Californians’ lives, our homes, and our families depend on it.

On Tuesday, Professor James Stone wrote, “Fossil fuels are a losing bet. Why are CalPERS & CalSTRS still investing in them?” In February, The Sacramento Bee revealed the fossil fuel lobby spent more than $34 million in Sacramento in 2022

To date, over 1,550 institutions representing more than $40 trillion in assets have committed to some level of fossil fuel divestment. This comes as fossil fuel-funded politicians peddle anti-ESG legislation and false, politically-motivated claims, costing taxpayers millions. Ten states across the U.S. are mobilizing to pass divestment legislation, with Vermont passing divestment through its Senate in the last week. Over 120 Californian organizations endorse SB 252, including unions representing over 470,000 Californians. 

On Tuesday, April 18, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hear the bill.