Santa Clara Valley Water District Divests from Fossil Fuels

The Santa Clara Valley Water District became the first water agency in the nation to join a movement to divest from fossil fuels, retracting investments from companies considered to contribute to climate change and harm the world’s water supply.

“We are confronting and adapting to climate change impacts on water supply, flood control and watershed restoration, so we shouldn’t be funding the same companies that are the cause of these problems,” said Brian Schmidt, water district director and author of the new policy.

The district delivers billions of gallons of drinking water and flood protection for 1.8 million South Bay residents and some of the nation’s top tech companies. Agency officials say they’re increasingly worried about the receding Sierra snowpack and the booming demand for water caused by the planet’s warming.

The only investment affected by the unanimous divestment vote is a $3 million debt note from Chevron slated to sell once it matures in 2016. The vote bars the agency from making any future investments in any of the 200 largest coal, natural gas and oil companies. Berkeley, Richmond, San Francisco and municipalities in 14 other states took the same stance.

Cities, schools and nonprofits have joined the national movement to divest, modeling the act on a movement in the 1980s to withdraw support from South African companies to protest racial apartheid.

“We hope this decision will set a precedent for other government agencies,” said Jay Carmona, a divestment campaigner at 350.org. “It makes zero sense for our public institutions to be investing in companies that are putting the public at risk.”

Research has shown that climate change causes longer and harsher droughts across the U.S. Two-thirds of the land in the lower 48 states lapsed into drought last year and remains plagued by arid conditions, which racks up billions of dollars in damage from crop death, livestock die-offs and wildfires. For a case in point, look at Texas, where there’s plenty of oil but not nearly enough water.

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, kicked off the divestment movement last fall with a speaking tour. Since then, several colleges, including San Francisco State University, have shirked fossil fuel investment from their endowments.

Inevitably, given that fossil fuels supply 87 percent of our global energy, there’s been some backlash. Forbes contributor Alex Epstein, who calls himself an “energy philosopher” and leads the “I Love Fossil Fuels Campaign,” champions a letter co-signed by 80 scholars against divestment. Epstein believes “radical environmentalist groups” lead the movement.

Of course, President Obama is counted among these radicals. During a climate speech earlier this summer at Georgetown University, Obama exhorted the audience to vote with their dollars.

“Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution,” he said. “Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

7 Comments

  1. It’s pretty easy to indulge your whims when you’re awash in cash as is SCVWD. I just wish that keeping the waterways clear, clean, and free of garbage was also one of their whims.

    And in order to have any significant effect SCVWD would have to require that all of it’s employees divest their retirement savings assets as well. After all, the employees’ generous retirement packages and the agency’s investable assets all derive from the same source- us. And shouldn’t all these loyal, socially responsible public servants be just as eager to sacrifice their own money to a noble cause as their employer is to sacrifice ours?

    Bottom line: Sometime over the next 10,000 years ALL the fossil fuels that are now buried in the Earth’s crust will have been burned and introduced into the atmosphere. It’s going to happen. It might result in climate change. It might not. Either way, SCVWD’s self-indulgent gesture will have had no effect other than the damage inflicted on the people of Santa Clara County caused by our arrogant, elitist government getting spoiled, getting distracted, getting bored, and failing to do the job they were being paid to do.

    • All they had was $3 in Chevron debt that they’re going to let mature.  Zero financial impact.

      I read about it in several places and it’s been on the radio and on tv.  This has been a PR bonanza at zero cost to taxpayers.  What’s not to like?

      Brian Schmidt got this through and got the water board to take a pay cut all in the same meeting.  Want to bet he’s moving up the food chain.

  2. So environmental zealots are trying to force pension funds to abandon fossil-fuel companies just as they approach a bonanza, courtesy of fracking, horizontal drilling and other newly productive exploration strategies. This is crazy.
    Losing a few investments from California pension funds isn’t going to hurt these behemoths in the slightest. Instead, the pain from that decision will have to be borne by Californians dealing with chronic pension shortfalls as a new and near-permanent fixture of local governance. Great. Just great. – See more at: http://calwatchdog.com/2013/08/28/politicizing-ca-pension-investments-will-add-to-funding-nightmare/#sthash.5dHGysRQ.dpuf – See more at:  http://calwatchdog.com/2013/08/28/politicizing-ca-pension-investments-will-add-to-funding-nightmare/

  3. > Bottom line: Sometime over the next 10,000 years ALL the fossil fuels that are now buried in the Earth’s crust will have been burned and introduced into the atmosphere.

    I doubt it.

    From Wikipedia:

    > Carbon is the fourth most abundant chemical element in the universe by mass after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. Carbon is abundant in the Sun, stars, comets, and in the atmospheres of most planets.

    It’s going to take a lot longer than 10,000 years to burn all the hydrogen and carbon in the earth’s crust.

    If the SCVWD has enough free time on their hands to rationalize divesting fossil fuel companies from their investment profile, it confirms that:

    A.) They have way, way too many managers with not enough to do, and

    B.) They have way, way too much money to invest, and should immediately lower their rates and rebate their investment capital to rate payers.

    It’s a safe bet that SCVWD’s fossil fuel vendetta is both irrational and inconsequential.  It’s effect on global climate undoubtedly can’t even be measured.

    This is pure symbolism, and I’m completely disgusted and sick of ignorant, stupid, and arrogant public servants flashing their moral exhibitionism in my face.

    • Flood control and a reliable water supply are the water district’s primary areas of responsibility.  The SCVWD isn’t the City of Berkeley in this regard.  They are an agency that has to manage the consequences of the all the fossil fuels we’ve been burning.

      They are doing what they can to influence public opinion on this issue.  That they are able to do it at zero, or near zero cost to you an me is a good thing.  You can’t even complain about them wasting money, because there isn’t any.

    • Lou,
      Carbon and hydrogen may be the 4th and 1st most abundant elements in the universe respectively but the portions that are available to us for combustion are pretty restricted. I’m talking about fossil fuels. Organic hydrocarbons.
      I’m pretty sure that one way or another we humans (Democrat humans included) over the next several thousand years, despite all the Democrats’ handwringing, political posturing, and self righteous demonizing of industry, are going to pump all the oil and gas, squeeze all the oil shale, and scrape up all the coal that was formed since all those ferns and cycads, pterodactyls and allosauri, died and decayed in the fetid miasma lo these hundreds of millions of years ago. We’ll burn it for power, thus adding the component elements to our atmosphere. It’s gonna happen.
      SCVWD’s misguided PR campaign will serve no purpose other than to persuade gullible liberals to believe the lie that they can stop this inevitable outcome if only they subscribe to Democrat ideals. I, as you, resent this “flashing of moral exhibitionism in my face” and it has no place in our government.

      randall,
      Public agencies should narrowly confine their objectives and actions. It’s not SCVWD’s job to try to influence broader policies. And I don’t give a s*** about Brian Schmidt’s rising star.

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