Lawmakers in the state of Texas called executives from BlackRock and other asset management companies to testify regarding their support of the environmental, social, and governance movement, also known as ESG.
Officials recently warned BlackRock that the company’s promotion of causes such as emissions reduction violates state laws demanding a sole focus on financial returns among fiduciaries. The hearing held on Thursday by the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs was scheduled earlier this month after BlackRock “refused to provide documents it considers internal or confidential,” leading lawmakers to issue a subpoena, according to a statement from Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-TX) provided to The Daily Wire.
A spokesman for the asset management behemoth sent The Daily Wire opening remarks presented to the committee by BlackRock Head of External Affairs Dalia Blass. The executive stressed the company’s recent pivot toward permitting investors to “express their own views on corporate governance in a meaningful way” by letting institutional clients vote their shares, a move which followed a campaign against the ESG movement led by conservative lawmakers.
“We offer more choice to clients on how to vote proxies than any other firm in the industry,” Blass said. “Currently, all our public pension plan clients in the United States, including those in Texas, are eligible for voting choice, and we are working on how to expand the offering to even more investors, including individual investors.”
Blass, who said that BlackRock has invested more than $107 billion in public Texas energy companies alone, insisted that “climate risks” are among the “material investment risks” the firm considers. “We do this because we are fiduciaries focused on delivering the best investment results for our clients,” she asserted.
An official from asset management company State Street also provided testimony before lawmakers. The committee exempted Vanguard from the hearing after the company withdrew from the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative last week. Asset managers endorsing the project vow to move portfolio companies closer to eliminating net carbon emissions by 2050.
Hughes pressed Blass on her company’s participation in Climate Action 100+, a similar alliance of asset managers committed to ensuring that “the world’s largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters take necessary action on climate change.” She claimed that BlackRock participates in the entity only to dialogue with other companies and contended that her company retains independence over investment decisions.
“Even though you joined this group and BlackRock pledged to secure commitments from companies to take actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the Paris Agreement, you are saying that is not what BlackRock is doing?” he asked, arguing that statements from the company distancing itself from Climate Action 100+ contradict the explicit goals of the alliance.
The committee also featured testimony from Bud Brigham, the executive chairman of Brigham Minerals, who told lawmakers that investment bank Credit Suisse refused to participate in a capital raise with the company unless he posted bullet points regarding the validity of climate change on social media. Brigham added that a Chinese solar panel manufacturer allegedly engaged in slave labor has received higher ESG ratings than his company.
A number of Republican state governments have recently divested from prominent asset managers over concerns that the companies’ voting priorities are driven by political ideology rather than the maximization of returns. Beyond divestments from South Carolina, Louisiana, Missouri, West Virginia, Florida, and Utah, officials in the state of Texas previously announced that BlackRock and nine other firms had broken the law by “refusing to deal with” companies involved in the production and use of fossil fuels “without an ordinary business purpose.”