California Senate President to Propose Legislation to Divest from Coal

California’s Senate President Pro tem Kevin De León announced yesterday Dec. 5, 2014 that he will propose legislation next month to require the state’s public pension funds, including CALPERS and CALSTRS, to begin to divest completely out of coal. He made the announcement at Tom Steyer’s Next Generation climate conference in Oakland, CA.

“Climate change is a top priority for me as the new leader of the Senate. – Any efforts to undermine our climate change policies are undermining our global leadership and the future of our economy. The world is watching and we can’t stop now. With coal power in retreat, and the value of coal dropping, it’s time for us to lead again in moving our massive state portfolios to lower carbon investments. Divestment is about matching your values with your investment strategy — and still seeing positive financial returns.”

“California is leading globally on climate change, De Leon stated, “and clean energy — and our shared financial resources should reflect that. California has prohibited its energy companies from buying or importing coal power, and state funds should match that. Less than .5% of in-state generation comes from coal, it is phasing out.”

The announcement was made amidst the climate conference’s emphasis on social justice that the state’s lesser served communities be at the table for the inevitable conversion to a clean energy economy. In response to this need, De Leon authored SB 535, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund passed in session year 2011-2012. The legislated funding insures that 25 percent of California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund monies go specifically to projects that provide benefits to disadvantaged communities in California.

Governor Jerry Brown, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, University of California President Janet Napolitano, Pablo Gomez of Alliance for Climate Education and Next Generation Climate America Founder Tom Steyer also gave keynote addresses about the importance of building an advanced energy economy and healthy environment for all Californians.

“California is at a crossroads: we can either continue our historic progress in developing and deploying new energy technologies that create jobs and reduce carbon emissions, or we can give into the lies and deceptions peddled by the oil companies,” said Steyer.

De Leon furthered that, “Green jobs are growing faster than any other industry in our state. Advanced energy employment in California is currently at 431,800, an increase of 5% over last year. More than 2,000 companies are doing business in California due to its clean energy policies. Policies that support clean energy and a green economy – like Charge Ahead, the 33% RPS (renewable portfolio standard), the California Solar Initiative and the Global Warming Solutions Act AB 32 – these are all major job creators in our state.”

Author’s note: over 9 democratic central committee chairs and several caucuses within the California Democratic Party and private industry and environmenal groups have now endorsed a 100% RPS (renwable portfolio standard resolution.)

Panelists such as Mary Nichols, Chair CA Air Resources Board resolved, “we have to electrify everything,” in response to how the state will meet a reduction of 80% greenhouse gases.” She furthered that her board would be looking into how the current car culture might become less of a central component of the average Californian.

Nichols sat beside the chief architect of the Global Warming Solutions Act AB 32 Senator Fran Pavley who wished to begin working on 2030 and 2050 climate benchmarks. Nichols said the state continues to remain on track to meet the current 2020 goal and agreed the state must plan for carbon reductions beyond 2020. Meeting long term climate goals will require the replacement of millions of cars now run on fossil fuel to be converted to become electrically charged.

But science is just one component of the problem, given the greatest sources of pollutants coincide with the state’s poorer communities translating into the highest rates of chronic diseases such as asthma, vital organ failures as heart and kidney disease and cancers.

Bonnie Holmes-Gen Senior Policy Director of the American Lung Association in California reported on pollution episodes including an 8 day haze that parked over the Valley with increased patient loads of 30% and increased asthma attacks. “It is estimated that by 2050 the number of unhealthy days of ozone pollution could increase by up to 30 days triggered by climate change. State clean fuels policies will help avoid 8 billion in health care costs by 2025.”

Minister Bryson White of Faith in the Community reported that the section of the city of Fresno dominated by minorities had a life expectancy of on average of 20 years less than those of affluential whites in another section of the same town. White’s father died of kidney failure in 2005 at the age of 58, and since 2000, has buried an aunt or a cousin each year since due to some form of cancer or vital organ failure.

Faith in the Community is a coalition of over 450 churches recognizing the opportunity to set social justice matters right in a new economy.While questioning a city official about the descrepancy, the response was- “well that’s what that part of town was zoned for.” To which Vien Truong, Environmental Equity Director, Greenlining Institute remarked, “an entire generation, but where are the solutions going?”

Executive Secretary-Treasurer CA Labor Federation, AFL-CIO Art Pulaski reasoned that the current thinking of today’s companies are ‘low wages for low wage work.’ However, the state would need to shift this thinking and referenced former President of the Sierra Club’s Carl Pope’s statements regarding this matter, “you cannot have environmental stability without economic stability.” And that “the manufacturing jobs we need are highly skilled and therefore highly paid jobs in innovative sectors like mass transit vehicles, electric cars, new battery and energy storage technologies, solar power, wind turbines, high performance building materials, carbon fiber for lightweight vehicles.”

And Pablo Gomez, Senior Fellow from Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) who has now educated over 5000 students in Los Angeles urged, “the problem is bigger than all of us-” including how climate affects the state’s pre-eminent agriculture and ability to find fresh local organic food. Gomez pleaded to policy makes to be sure to bring youth to the table as they are 20% of the populace of California and those that will inherit the decisions of policy makers whose laws, today’s lawmakers may not have to experience the consequences of.

But government policy is not the only answer- as Danny Kennedy Founder of Sungevity, Brenden Millstein CEO Carbon Lighthouse and Rick Hutchinson, CEO City Car Share reported skyrocketing growth in the private sector of their organizations; albeit grateful to California’s progressive policies already spilling over to over states looking to the golden’s state’s leadership on clean economy matters, such as to be implemented beginning 2015 AB 2188’s streamlining of solar installation, Title 24’s building codes, and the state’s golden AB 32 Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

Kennedy remarked in fact that Sungevity’s support of companies and programs in Africa has supported that continent to begin to leap frog over older technologies fast becoming obsolete as Africa moves directly over to a clean electrified economy. He could name at least 10 fast growing start-ups working on this particular problem alone. Meanwhile he said, Silicon Valley is swimming in start-ups but we need more in solar.” And he counseled, “That it’s not just about new gadgets only and some new innovation as much as it’s about ingenuity; the unique combination of existing ideas.” And so Kennedy’s most favored ‘technology choice,’ “he spoke, “is human.” The entrepreneurial spirit. This is all about people power. All of us getting involved in the change.”