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California Senator Revives $15 Billion Oil Divestment Battle

A contentious California bill aimed at compelling the state’s two largest pension funds to divest approximately $15 billion in oil and gas assets has stalled for the third consecutive year, but the bill's architect has vowed to renew her push with a more formidable coalition of climate activists in the coming legislative session, Bloomberg said on Friday.

State Senator Lena Gonzalez, a prominent Democrat from Los Angeles County, announced plans to reintroduce legislation that mandates the California Public Employees’ Retirement systems  (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement systems(CalSTRS) to divest their oil and gas holdings. This year’s bill was shelved after a legislative committee in the lower house attempted to dilute its provisions.

"We believe we’ll garner even broader support," stated Gonzalez in an interview. "The effort will be more concerted, with a stronger, more diverse set of voices."

The proposal has exposed rifts within California's Democratic supermajority, balancing the urgency of climate action against fears that divesting could jeopardize the financial health of municipalities already grappling with pension fund liabilities. Gonzalez's previous attempts have similarly faltered, failing to advance past the state Senate last year.

The current proposal would have required CalPERS and CalSTRS to cease new investments in oil and gas companies by next year and to divest existing holdings by 2031. However, the Committee on Public Employment and Retirement, led by Assemblymember Tina McKinnor, sought to extend the divestment deadline to 2045, prompting Gonzalez to withdraw the bill.

Historically, the $504 billion CalPERS fund has argued that maintaining investments in energy companies allows it to advocate for reductions in carbon emissions from within. Similarly, CalSTRS, which manages around $338 billion, did not respond to requests for comment.

According to a legislative analysis from last year, Gonzalez’s bill would have forced CalPERS and CalSTRS to liquidate an estimated $15 billion in oil and gas assets. A recent study warned that such a move could result in a “fire sale,” potentially leading to significant financial losses for the pension funds.

The renewed legislative push signals continued debate over the role of large institutional investors in addressing climate change, as well as the financial implications of such divestment strategies.

By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com

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