Chase Woodruff

(Colorado Newsline) Two Democrats on the Colorado Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday joined Republicans to defeat the latest in a series of attempts to prod the state’s public pension system towards more climate-friendly investment decisions.

Senate Bill 23-16, a wide-ranging package of reforms to state climate policy sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Chris Hansen of Denver, was amended on a 5-2 vote to strip a section requiring the board of the Public Employees Retirement Association to ensure its proxy votes as an investor “align with, and are supportive of” the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

State Sens. Kyle Mullica of Northglenn and Chris Kolker of Centennial, both Democrats, joined the committee’s three GOP members in approving the amendment over Hansen’s objections.

“The precedent is something that I’ve communicated to the sponsor that I have concerns about,” Mullica, the committee’s chair, said prior to the vote. “PERA does have a duly elected board of members who have paid their own money into for retirement, and have the ability to make those changes … either through running measures themselves or electing board members who would support those measures.”

More than 650,000 current and former public employees across Colorado are members of PERA, which manages more than $76 billion in assets. The pension system has fought off repeated attempts by activists and some state lawmakers to require its board to more closely scrutinize its investments for climate-related risks and potentially divest its fossil-fuel-related holdings.

The section removed from SB-16 was a more limited proposal aimed at influencing PERA’s proxy votes on climate-related shareholder resolutions. Such resolutions have been a tactic increasingly pursued by large institutional investors who hope to steer corporations towards climate risk assessments and emissions-cutting targets.

“This was not a divestment provision,” Hansen told the committee. “This was focused completely on an update of the proxy policy.”

Hansen also said he was “getting very close to a final set of amendments” to the bill related to widespread delays in installing and connecting rooftop solar installations for homes and businesses. Customers of utilities like Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest electric provider, have reported that they pay to install solar panels only to face months-long waits for the panels to be “interconnected” to the grid.

“The utilities are working hard to catch up, but we’ve been behind, unfortunately, and that’s costing companies money, it’s costing consumers money,” Hansen said. “Right now I think we have a timeline or a deadline that is lacking in that process, and I think we’ve got a lack of ability to implement fines if there are delays.”

SB-16 also includes sections aimed at streamlining the process for the installation of electric transmission lines, tax credits for the purchase of electric-powered lawn equipment, and a new regulatory framework for carbon capture projects.

The committee approved several other amendments to the bill on Tuesday, including one that would prohibit homeowner associations from banning electric heat pumps. The committee advanced the bill on a 4-3 party-line vote.

“Folks in Colorado know how vital it is we address this issue,” Hansen said. “Certainly the drought in the Colorado (River) Basin is yet another example, along with the wildfires that we’ve experienced over the last few years, of how important it is to continue to make progress on meeting our emissions goals.”