Monday, November 6, 2017

The CalPERS Board Election Continues - Who Will You Endorse ?

The first round of elections for one of the seats on the Board of Administration at CalPERS (Position B on the previous ballot) resulted in no candidate achieving a majority of votes. CalPERS members have another opportunity to decide who will represent them in one of the worldʻs largest public pension funds. The previous election was sufficiently close that the runoff election may be decided by a relatively small number of voters. It is not surprising that the finalists - Margaret Brown and Michael Bilbrey - each contacted me, requesting my endorsement.
The relationship between private returns on investments and damaging public consequences has become a hot topic for public pension funds. Californiaʻs Controller Betty Yee and state Treasurer John Chiang, both board members at CalPERS and CalSTRS, have questioned pension holdings of coal companies or gun manufacturers. Still others have challenged investments in tobacco, pesticides, and so on.

For many of us who have served in Californiaʻs Legislature, the issue of fossil fuels reflects a long-standing conflict between private and public interests. While historically occupying an economic centerpiece, fossil fuels are increasingly viewed as an archaic and inherently hazardous industry actively engaged in delaying its replacement by a newer generation of cleaner and safer industries. Even more profoundly, thousands of scientists from around the world have documented fossil fuels as posing a threat to the survival of civilization beyond the 21st century. 

On October 18, 2017 I asked the two CalPERS candidates to respond to a series of questions relating to the mounting evidence of damaging consequences resulting from fossil fuels and their role as prospective board members at CalPERS, as follows:

Dear Margaret Brown and Michael Bilbrey:           

My congratulations to each of you as finalists for the CalPERS Board of Administration runoff election. I intended to write you earlier but my work has been interrupted by the fires surrounding my neighborhood in Santa Rosa.

Since receiving your request for my endorsement in the runoff election, I have developed a set of questions to help me make that decision as well as providing some guidance for the many thousands of voters who cast a vote for me during the CalPERS general election.

During my campaign I emphasized the importance of the CalPERS investment decisions as a means of affecting corporate behaviors more broadly. Following conversations with numerous CalPERS members, I have good reason to believe a clear statement of your position on one particular issue - the role of CalPERS investment decisions with respect to the damaging consequences of fossil fuels - may be pivotal for gaining the favor of many voters who supported my candidacy. Having served for many years as a senior environmental policy adviser to the California Legislature as well as writing a book on this topic (The War on California: Defeating Oil, Oligarchs and the New Tyranny), your position is clearly important to me as well.

Here are my questions for you:

1. Many Americans have learned in legal filings submitted by cities and states that various petroleum corporations have engaged in an organized campaign to deceive the public about the dangers associated with fossil fuels. As a prospective member of the CalPERS Board, what do you believe you can do to address the issue of climate change with respect to the negative consequences identified in authoritative scientific statements (e.g., The 5th Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)?

2. Some have argued that there is a conflict between meeting your fiduciary duty as a CalPERS Board member and your responsibility to protect CalPERS members and the broader public from the burning of fossil fuels. As a prospective member of the Board, what do you believe is the best course of action to reconcile such conflicts?

3. As you may be aware, there are a growing number of California cities filing law suits against major fossil fuel corporations seeking to address the damages already affecting numerous Californians as well as even greater future harms, including negative impacts affecting many, if not all CalPERS members. What course of action do you recommend CalPERS adopt in order to address the potentially massive liabilities facing fossil fuel corporations?

4. In the event of opposition or delays from other CalPERS Board members and/or staff to act decisively to prevent the damaging consequences of fossil fuels, how might you support the urgent calls by scientists, public health experts and university faculty from around the world for expedited actions to dramatically reduce fossil fuel emissions while expanding investments in alternative energy?

For additional information, you are welcome to follow me on Facebook, visit my blog at Calpolitico (, or read my book.

To provide transparency I am seeking a concise response that can be distributed publicly. I ask that you respond no later than November 3, 2017 so that voters have time to read and carefully consider your position on the issues. In the absence of any response, I will only be able to report that outcome to my many supporters.

Congratulations once again on your campaign thus far. I look forward to your thoughtful and timely response.

All my best,

Bruce H. Jennings, Ph.D.
Next up:  the responses.........

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