San Mateo County sues Big Oil but invests in oil companies

Daily Post Staff Writer

San Mateo County is suing several oil companies including Exxon Mobil and Chevron, claiming they are responsible for climate change, and yet the county and its employee retirement program, SamCERA, hold investments in those companies. The county has $171 million invested in Chevron and Exxon. The amount held by the pension fund wasn’t available.

“If we’re going to sue them, then we need to get out too,” county Supervisor Don Horsley told the Post. “I think it’s financially prudent and consistent with our values.”

Horsley said there’s precedent in divesting in such companies. The county has dumped its tobacco stocks.

County Treasurer Sandie Arnott decides what stocks the county buys for its investment portfolio, and then those choices are reviewed by a Treasury Oversight Committee, according to county spokeswoman Michelle Durand.

Durand said SamCERA makes its investment decisions independently of the county Board of Supervisors. Arnott sits on SamCERA’s board, however.

Diane Bailey, executive director of the sustainability nonprofit Menlo Spark, said divesting in big oil is the “right thing to do in order for local governments to speak up for sustainability efforts with its finances.” While encouraging divestment is not something Menlo Spark focuses on, Bailey said she’d encourage the county to take as quick of a transition as it can, but knows divesting can take time.

Horsley said he’d like to find an appropriate timeframe for divesting of oil stocks. “It’s not something we can do overnight,” he said.

Last July 17, the county filed a lawsuit against Exxon Mobile, Chevron and other oil companies, claiming that they are responsible for about 20% of all carbon dioxide and methane emissions between 1965 and 2015. These companies knew that their emissions would contribute to sea-level rise, the lawsuit says.

The county doesn’t hold stock in the oil companies but rather bonds and commercial paper, which are other forms of debt securities.

Arnott said because the county’s investment pool is for short term investments, it cannot own stocks. She also said she has not been approached by any other county official requesting the county divest in the two oil companies.

Arnott, who is elected to her post, decides where to invest the county’s money.

The county’s retirement program, SamCERA, is also invested in Chevron and Exxon. However, information on just how much money is invested in those companies was not available.


  1. I’m glad the county is taking on Big Oil over climate change. If the oil companies knew they were part of the cause and hid it, then they owe us big time. It’s unfortunate that the county didn’t check its investment portfolio before suing, but it’s not too late to divest. And I would encourage the county that instead of being embarrassed about this, they make a big public deal about selling off their oil company stock. Do it in such a way that it makes a statement that is heard by others. I mean how many of us have oil company stock in our 401K portfolios and we don’t even know it, because it’s tucked into a mutual fund or something.

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