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Home » Oklahoma officials push back on ESG
In recent years, environmental activists have tried to frustrate US energy development and production by pressuring financial firms to adopt “environmental, social and governance” (ESG) policies that prioritize political considerations when making investment decisions concede before returns.
But Oklahoma officials, both state and federal, are pushing back, and ESG advocates are expected to lose billions of dollars in deals they currently have with Oklahoma government agencies.
This week, Oklahoma State Treasurer Todd Russ sent a letter and questionnaire to national financial institutions, including fund managers and banks, to determine which companies are attempting to “boycott” energy companies in Oklahoma.
Russ’ effort stems from the passage of the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act of 2022, which requires the state to “sell, redeem, dispose of, or withdraw all publicly traded securities” from any financial firm that “continues to boycott energy companies.” ESG guidelines.
Russ’s letter is the first step in compiling the list of companies that may violate Oklahoma state law.
“I took office on January 9 and began compiling a list of companies, banks and other entities that are taking action against Oklahoma’s interests because of their ESG stance,” Russ said. “It is my responsibility to ensure that Oklahoma tax dollars are not used to enrich organizations that act against our taxpayer interests and our values. This questionnaire provides financial firms with an opportunity to certify their Oklahoma-related operations. Other states are taking similar steps, and Oklahoma joins them in affirming that we will not do business with financial companies that discriminate against or boycott our energy industries and businesses.”
Under Oklahoma law, any company that does not respond to Russ’ letter within 60 days (by April 1, 2023) is deemed to be engaged in discriminatory activity, and Oklahoma government agencies must release all assets associated with those companies sell.
“This list is critical in keeping our government agencies accountable, including organizations responsible for pension funds such as the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) and the Teachers Retirement System (TRS), to ensure that our constituents’ taxpayer dollars only investing in safe and secure assets is verified financial companies that comply with Oklahoma law,” Russ said. “OPERS alone has more than 60 percent of its portfolio, valued at more than $10 billion, managed by BlackRock, a well-known opponent of energy companies.”
The Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) has billions managed by BlackRock, a well-known opponent of energy companies.
The Energy Discrimination Elimination Act of 2022 not only protects Oklahoma’s fossil fuel industries, but also increases the financial security of Oklahomaans, whose incomes will depend on state pension systems in their golden years.
A number of studies have shown that ESG investment strategies have poorer returns than companies focused on growth potential. For example, a study by UCLA and NYU found that ESG funds underperformed the broader market over the past five years with an average return of 6.3 percent compared to 8.9 percent. Additionally, ESG investors generally pay higher costs for underperforming compared to other investment plans.
At the same time that Russ’s letter was sent, 48 members of the US Senate introduced legislation to challenge President Biden’s ESG Rule 401(k). Oklahoma’s two U.S. Senators — James Lankford of Oklahoma City and Markwayne Mullin of Westville — are among lawmakers backing the measure.
In November, Biden introduced a rule that specifically allows ERISA pension plan trustees to consider ESG factors when selecting investments and exercising shareholder rights. Under Biden’s rule, bond fund managers can prioritize ESG factors rather than financial returns when making investment decisions.
The Biden rule replaced a previous rule that fiduciary decisions should be made solely based on achieving the best returns for the 152 million American workers who depend on ERISA for their retirement. Because ERISA covers most employer-funded retirement plans, approximately $11.7 trillion in assets will be affected.
US Rep. Andy Barr, R-KY, is leading the House version of the legislation. The US Senate and the US House of Representatives will vote on the rejection decision. Under House and Senate rules, the senators and Barr can force a vote on the resolution to overturn the rule. In addition, the resolution requires only a simple majority of votes to be adopted and sent to the President.
“Political preferences should have no place in determining Americans’ retirement funds,” Lankford said. “Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that the White House is using its recent foray into environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues to force its ‘wake’ agenda into every part of our lives, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of retirement the Americans go. Americans shouldn’t have to give up their retirement savings to left-wing activists.”
“The Biden administration’s ruthless ESG rule proves that nothing is off-limits when it comes to Joe Biden’s radical green agenda — even Americans’ hard-earned retirement savings,” Mullin said. “This new rule will leave Americans’ savings at the mercy of money managers driving the awakened ESG movement, regardless of low returns or awareness among participants. At a time of record inflation, it’s more important than ever that Republicans condemn ‘woke’ policies that threaten hard-working families’ ability to save for retirement.”
The federal measure also has bipartisan support in the US Senate.
“At a time when our country is already facing economic uncertainty, record inflation and rising energy costs, it is irresponsible for the Biden administration to jeopardize the retirement savings of more than 150 million Americans for purely political reasons,” said the US Senator Joe Manchin. D-WV. “I’m proud to join this bipartisan resolution to prevent the proposed ESG rule from jeopardizing retirement incomes and to protect the hard-earned savings of American families.”