President Joe Biden vetoed legislation on Monday that would have overturned a Labor Department rule allowing retirement fiduciaries to invest in accordance with the environmental, social, and corporate governance movement, also known as ESG.
The Labor Department issued a final rule last year that reflected the Biden administration’s purported efforts 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, which reverses a prohibition created under the Trump administration, fiduciaries are allowed to weigh “the economic effects of climate change and other ESG considerations” as long as the concerns are relevant to a risk-and-return analysis.
The veto, which is the first issued by Biden, overturns a resolution passed by Republicans and a handful of Democrats in order to nix the rule. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), both of whom are campaigning for re-election next year in heavily Republican states, voted alongside their GOP colleagues to advance the measure.
“There is extensive evidence showing that environmental, social, and governance factors can have a material impact on markets, industries, and businesses. But the Republican-led resolution would force retirement managers to ignore these relevant risk factors, disregarding the principles of free markets and jeopardizing the life savings of working families and retirees,” Biden said in a message to lawmakers released on Monday. “In fact, this resolution would prevent retirement plan fiduciaries from taking into account factors, such as the physical risks of climate change and poor corporate governance, that could affect investment returns.”
Critics of the ESG movement, on the other hand, assert that the investment philosophy mingles political and social causes, such as diversifying company leadership with respect to race or sex, in a manner that compromises or distracts from profitability. They point to lackluster performance from ESG funds last year as technology firms, which ESG managers tend to favor because of their emphasis on corporate social responsibility and internal workforce diversity, suffered in the stock market while energy companies, which ESG managers tend to dislike because of carbon emissions associated with the sector, witnessed outsized returns.
Republicans formerly celebrated the resolution as a rebuke of the federal government’s endorsement of the movement. “Today’s bipartisan vote makes clear what we have long said: ESG is an attempt to circumvent the democratic process to advance an inherently political agenda,” State Financial Officers Foundation CEO Derek Kreifels said in comments provided to The Daily Wire earlier this month. “Any move to supplant or dilute the fiduciary duty would undercut the foundations of our economic freedom and harm the American worker.”
American investors are largely skeptical toward ESG investment strategies and desire that their funds are allocated in a politically agnostic manner. An exclusive poll from The Daily Wire showed last year that 64% of respondents believe “individual investors whose savings are being invested” should decide whether funds are appropriated according to ESG standards, while a mere 20% believe that “Wall Street asset managers” should make such decisions.
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Senior officials in the Biden administration have nevertheless promoted tenets of the ESG movement in their various agencies. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently claimed at the first meeting of the newly established Climate-Related Financial Risk Advisory Committee that extreme weather across the nation is attributable to climate change and “can lead to declines in asset values that could cascade through the financial system.” Members of the body include staffers from government agencies, universities, and private entities such as JPMorgan Chase and the Bezos Earth Fund.
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