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Environment & Science

De Leon calls for climate divestment, seeks to pull coal investments from CALPERS, CALSTRS

State and local leaders break ground at a Louisville, Ky., coal-burning power plant in November 2012.
State and local leaders break ground at a Louisville, Ky., coal-burning power plant in November 2012.
Dylan Lovan/AP

California State Senator Kevin de Leon says he’ll introduce legislation next month to get the state’s public employees retirement system off of coal.

Just back from ho-hum international talks in Lima, where he was a member of California's delegation, de Leon spoke at a conference in Oakland. It was sponsored by NextGen Climate, a nonpartisan group founded by billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer to raise the profile of climate change among issues in the U.S. political debate.

“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,” De Leon said. “Divestment is about matching your values with your investment strategy — and still seeing positive financial returns… California has prohibited its energy companies from buying or importing coal power, and state funds should match that.”

De Leon proposes to divest the nation’s two largest public pension funds from coal. The California Public Employees Retirement System, or CALPERS, is the nation’s largest, controlling about $295 billion as of the end of September.  The California School Teachers Retirement System is a sister fund for pensions of nearly 850,000 California teachers. CALSTRS controls another $187.1 billion dollars in potential investments.

Burning coal for energy is a major source of greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. The move would lend momentum to a divestment movement already underway, largely targeted at investment funds belonging to colleges and universities nationwide.

Stanford and Pitzer College in Claremont are among a dozen universities that have pulled investments out of the coal industry. But others, including the University of California have refused.