SAN JOSE -- Joining a movement based on the 1980s push to divest from South African companies in a protest against apartheid, the Santa Clara Valley Water District board has decided to pull investments out of companies believed to contribute to global warming.
The unanimous vote to divest from 200 of the top fossil fuel companies aligns the water district with a nationwide movement that has been taken up by cities, universities and churches. While the San Jose-based water district is the first Silicon Valley government agency to take up the ban, similar votes have passed in Berkeley, San Francisco and Richmond as well as 14 cities in other states.
Water district director Brian Schmidt, who led the push for divestment, said it makes sense for the agency to join the cause.
"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 Schmidt.
The district provides drinking water for 1.8 million people in Santa Clara County, as well as flood protection.
It currently has a sole affected investment -- a $3 million debt note from Chevron that matures in June 2016. The note will either be sold at that time or earlier, if it can be sold for profit.
Future investments in the world's largest oil, coal and natural gas companies are off limits.
In a statement released Tuesday after the vote, Jay Carmona, who is with the 350.org campaign helping to coordinate the divestment effort, said they hope the water district's vote will "set a precedent for other government agencies."
"It makes zero sense for our public institutions to be investing in companies that are putting the public at risk," Carmona said.
Earlier this week, an oil industry spokesman said it is "unfortunate some people seem to feel supplying consumers with reliable and affordable energy is comparable to apartheid."
"Petroleum energy provides billions of people worldwide with mobility, comfort, security and economic prosperity," said Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association.
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.