By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two California Democratic congressmen on Wednesday urged the California Public Employees Retirement System, the largest U.S. public pension fund, to divest from oil giant ExxonMobil over its handling of the issue of climate change.
Congressmen Ted Lieu and Mark DeSaulnier sent a letter to CalPERS CEO Anne Stausboll, saying it is "morally suspect" for the $300 billion pension fund "to invest in a company that engaged in morally reprehensible conduct" on climate change.
The lawmakers said the fund should follow the lead of the Rockefeller Family Fund, which said last week it would divest from fossil fuels and "eliminate holdings" of Exxon Mobil Corp, saying the oil company associated with the family fortune has misled the public about climate change risks.
CalPERS was not immediately available for comment.
Investigations last year from Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times reported that the major oil firm misled the public and shareholders about the risks of climate change.
The stories led New York and California's attorneys general to launch investigations into whether the company misinformed shareholders. On Tuesday, the top attorneys from Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands confirmed they have launched their own investigations.[L2N1711A7]
An Exxon spokeswoman refuted the conclusions of those reports that said the company ignored the research of its own climate scientists.
"Contrary to activists' claims, our company's deliberations decades ago yielded no definitive conclusions," Suzanne McCarron, Exxon vice president of public affairs wrote in a statement Tuesday. She added that the company continues to engage in public debate around "policy responses to the emerging science."
The congressmen challenged CalPERS' position that divestment isn't always the best strategy to change company behavior on climate change, and that ongoing shareholder pressure can yield more results.
"We have seen no discernable evidence that CalPERS' efforts to engage ExxonMobil have resulted in any significant change in the way the company operates when it comes to taking action on climate change," the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
Last year, CalPERS completed a study of its portfolio's carbon footprint, breaking down the greenhouse gas emissions of its companies.
The fund is already beginning to sell its holdings in companies that get at least half of their revenues from coal mining after California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law calling for the partial divestment. The company is aiming to sell the shares by 2017.
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Alan Crosby)