The state of Oklahoma banned more than one dozen investment and asset management firms, including BlackRock and JPMorgan Chase, from conducting business with state government entities over alleged efforts to boycott energy companies.
Recently enacted legislation enabled Oklahoma Republican State Treasurer Todd Russ to create a list of firms deemed on Wednesday to be engaged in an energy company boycott, defined by the law as “refusing to deal with, terminating business activities with, or otherwise taking any action that is intended to penalize” fossil fuel companies “without an ordinary business purpose.” Companies from which state entities are now expected to divest funds also include Bank of America, State Street, and Climate First Bank.
“The energy sector is crucial to Oklahoma’s economy, providing jobs for our residents and helping drive economic growth. It is essential for us to work with financial institutions that are focused on free-market principles and not beholden to social goals that override their fiduciary duties,” Russ told The Daily Wire. “Our state’s financial partnerships should reflect our priorities and values, and it is our responsibility to partner with companies that share our vision for a strong and prosperous Oklahoma economy, and that includes our energy sector.”
The move from Oklahoma officials is the latest effort among conservative states to distance themselves from firms involved in the environmental, social, and corporate governance movement, also known as ESG, a philosophy that skeptics say mingles political causes with core business objectives in a manner that compromises or distracts from profitability.
Several firms supportive of the ESG movement have discouraged portfolio companies from involving themselves with initiatives that rely upon fossil fuels: BlackRock CEO Larry Fink said in his most recent annual letter to investors that “climate risk” is an “investment risk,” while JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said in his annual shareholder letter that the government should consider using eminent domain, the power to seize private land for public use, as one possible mechanism to accelerate the development of green energy resources.
State officials divested some $12 billion from BlackRock last year, constituting a small fraction of the $9 trillion managed by the company even as broader market forces react against the ESG movement. The officials likewise recently called on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to prohibit Vanguard, another prominent asset management company, from purchasing shares in publicly traded utilities out of a concern that the firm’s climate activism would raise prices and decrease energy reliability across the nation. Vanguard subsequently ceased participation in the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative, under which companies commit to seeking “net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner” using investment funds.
Increased economic tumult has heightened skepticism toward the ESG movement among some managers and investors. ESG funds suffered amid last year’s underperformance among technology firms, which ESG investors tend to favor because of their emphasis on corporate social responsibility, and overperformance among energy companies, which ESG managers tend to disdain because of their dislike for industries with heavy carbon emissions.
Republican presidential candidates are expected to make the ESG movement a central issue in the upcoming primary election. One recent survey from Harvard University’s Center for American Political Studies and The Harris Poll found that 64% of respondents have not heard of the investment philosophy, even as most voters agreed that investors should consider returns above other objectives. 56% of respondents backed a decision from Texas lawmakers to blacklist “financial companies for allegedly using ESG considerations,” a policy that could force state pensions and other public entities to sell their shares.