President Joe Biden’s Department of Labor introduced measures to reverse a ban on environmental, social, and governance investing, also known as ESG, among fiduciaries managing retirement funds, a rule that former President Donald Trump established during his final days in office.
The agency published a final rule on Tuesday that reflected the Biden administration’s directive to safeguard the economy from “climate-related financial risk that may threaten the life savings and pensions of America’s workers and families.” Under the new rule, fiduciaries are permitted to weigh “the economic effects of climate change and other ESG considerations” as long as such concerns are relevant to a risk-and-return analysis.
Employee Benefits Security Administration Acting Assistant Secretary Ali Khawar said last year that the measure, which had been undergoing a public comment period, would “bolster the resilience of workers’ retirement savings and pensions by removing the artificial impediments … caused by the prior administration’s rules.” She added that “climate change and other ESG factors can be financially material and when they are, considering them will inevitably lead to better long-term risk-adjusted returns, protecting the retirement savings of America’s workers.”
Critics of the ESG movement argue that the investment philosophy mingles political and social causes in a manner that fails to maximize shareholder returns. The former rule created by the Trump administration prevented “fiduciaries from selecting investments based on non-pecuniary considerations” and required them to “base investment decisions on financial factors” alone.
West Virginia State Treasurer Riley Moore remarked during an interview with The Daily Wire that allowing proponents of the ESG movement access to retirement funds exposes Americans to significant downside risk. “This is certainly reckless, because they are playing with other people’s retirement money,” he said. “When you put these ESG investment strategies in place, you become less diverse in your investments.”
Moore noted that ESG investments have suffered over the past year as technology stocks languish and the energy sector witnesses outsized profitability. Harvard Management Company, which manages the elite university’s endowment, admitted last month that a recent $2.3 billion loss was attributable to fossil fuel divestment efforts, even though the organization remains “proud to be deeply engaged in the issue of sustainability.”
“It’s almost along the lines of a religious fervor, where they’re willing to take a loss to further their political ideology,” Moore commented. “They need to be maximizing returns for their beneficiaries so they can feel safe in retirement.”
West Virginia ranked among the top six states for energy production as of 2019, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Moore characterized pushes from ratings agencies to downgrade energy-producing states as “coercive capitalism,” observing that his state’s finances have “never been better” despite the presence of a robust fossil fuel sector. Meanwhile, the broader American economy will suffer as investment dollars fail to reach critical oil and natural gas ventures in energy-rich states.
Moore, who recently announced his candidacy for Congress, said that lawmakers could prohibit ratings agencies from “pushing their worldview” on the marketplace and examine asset management companies’ use of proxy voting to advance the ESG movement. “There is a tremendous amount that can be done at the federal level to fill in the cracks where the states are limited in their capacity, while at the same time respecting federalism,” he added.
Americans would prefer that their investment dollars remain politically neutral, a recent survey found. An exclusive poll from The Daily Wire showed that 64% of respondents believe “individual investors whose savings are being invested” should ultimately decide whether retirement and pension funds are allocated according to ESG standards, while a mere 20% believe that “Wall Street asset managers” should make such decisions.