Brown signs coal divestment, other environment bills

Source: Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 15, 2015

California will drop all investments in coal under a bill Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed yesterday, one of several energy and environment measures he enacted.

S.B. 185 from Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Kevin de León requires California’s public pension funds, CalPERS and CalSTRS, to divest from thermal coal holdings. The Golden State will be the first in the United States to do so, a de León statement said.

CalPERS and CalSTRS are the largest public pension funds in the nation, with $293 billion and $184 billion in assets, respectively, de León’s statement added.

“Coal is a losing bet for California retirees and it’s also incredibly harmful to our health and the health of our environment,” de León said. “It has been a pleasure to work with CalPERS and CalSTRS to improve retirement security for our public employees while also aligning our investments with our values as a state.”

Bill McKibben, co-founder of, praised the move.

“California, once again, is helping show the way,” McKibben said. “These are two of the 20 largest pension funds on planet Earth, and this first big step will resonate in every financial market around the world. It’s a bad day to be a coal baron, and a signal day for the divestment movement and for the Golden State.”

But CalPERS and CalSTRS officials know that divestment efforts are futile, said Matt Dempsey, senior director of the global energy and natural resources sector at FTI Consulting Strategic Communications, which sometimes speaks for the fossil fuel industry.

He sent quotes from leaders of the funds, including one attributed to CalSTRS Chief Investment Officer Christopher Ailman and published April 7 on the conservative online Breitbart News Network. It said Ailman told the group’s board that “I’ve been involved in five divestments for our fund. All five of them we’ve lost money, and all five of them have not brought about social change.” The quote could not be immediately independently verified.

“When the chief investment officer of CalSTRS says that every time they’ve been forced to divest, they’ve lost money, I think folks need to pay attention to that,” Dempsey said. “And that’s especially true of the millions of public employees whose retirement security is tied to the performance of these funds.”

Brown also approved:

  • A.B. 1288 from Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D). It adds two appointments to the Air Resources Board, to represent communities that are low-income, ethnic minority, and hard-hit by pollution and the effects of climate change. The measure will “help ensure one of the state’s top environmental regulatory bodies — the California Air Resources Board — is more representative of the state’s diversity and those most impacted by pollution,” a statement from Brown’s office said.
  • S.B. 414 from Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D). It makes some changes to prepare better for oil spills. She represents the Santa Barbara area, where an on-land pipe owned by Plains All American Pipeline ruptured May 19. It sent 105,000 barrels of crude onto the beach, and about 21,000 gallons of that oil flowed into the Pacific Ocean. The measure requires, among other items, that the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) administrator arrange drills and exercises with the U.S. Coast Guard, consult peer-reviewed scientific literature on chemical dispersants and ask that the California Dispersant Plan be updated by May 1, 2016. The OSPR administrator also must submit a report to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2017, “assessing best achievable technology of equipment for oil spill prevention, preparedness and response,” according to a Senate bill analysis. “This shall include an assessment of a new method — estimated recovery system potential — for evaluating oil skimmers.”
  • Brown also signed Jackson’s S.B. 295. It requires the state fire marshal or someone authorized by the marshal beginning in 2017 to annually inspect all intrastate pipelines and operators of intrastate pipelines. Brown in a signing statement noted that the oil spill earlier this year in Santa Barbara “impacted birds, animals and other marine life and caused the closure of beaches and fishing.” He added, “Our coastline and surrounding environments contribute to the great and unique landscape of California. These bills improve planning for and prevention of oil spills and our response when spills occur.”
  • A.B. 692 from Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D). It requires every state agency that buys transportation fuels to purchase at least 3 percent “very low carbon transportation fuels,” beginning Jan. 1, 2017, with the percentage increasing by 1 point each year until 2024.
  • A.B. 682 from Assemblyman Das Williams (D). It lets people who live in mobile home parks make certain energy-related upgrades without filing an application with the Department of Housing and Community Development. They can also fix defects related to the heat-producing or electrical systems without filing an application with HCD.
  • A.B. 1236 by Assemblyman David Chiu (D). It mandates that counties and cities create an expedited permitting and inspection process for electric vehicle charging stations.
  • A.B. 693 from Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D). It creates the Multifamily Affordable Housing Solar Roofs Program. That will provide financial incentives for solar on multifamily affordable housing properties.