Oklahoma Treasurer Todd Russ warned investment companies that they would lose access to state funds in two months if they fail to prove they are not involved in the environmental, social, and corporate governance movement, also known as ESG.
Russ sent a letter to several dozen financial companies, including asset managers BlackRock and Vanguard and investment banks JPMorgan Chase and UBS, warning that his office would enforce a state law passed last year against energy company boycotts launched “without an ordinary business purpose.” Firms considered to be boycotting energy companies will be placed on a statewide list and will no longer be able to service government investments.
“Such a listing will prohibit Oklahoma governmental entities from investing in, and may potentially require divestment from your company, your company’s affiliates and subsidiaries, or investment vehicles affiliated with your company, its affiliates or subsidiaries,” said the letter obtained by The Daily Wire. “Your company may be presumed to be boycotting energy companies under Oklahoma law if you fail to timely respond to this request.”
The letter asks the companies whether they have “committed or pledged to meet environmental standards, such as reducing your greenhouse gas emissions, beyond applicable federal or state law” and whether they are members of the Net Zero Asset Managers or similar initiatives, under which firms vow to move portfolio companies closer toward eliminating net carbon emissions.
Vanguard recently opted to withdraw from the initiative to “provide the clarity our investors desire about the role of index funds and about how we think about material risks, including climate-related risks,” according to a statement. The pivot occurred hours after lawmakers in the state of Texas announced a hearing over asset managers’ alleged mismanagement of taxpayer dollars driven by ideological motives.
Russ, who assumed office last month, said in a statement provided to The Daily Wire that he immediately began assembling a list of companies that “act against Oklahoma’s interests” because of their endorsement of the ESG movement. Critics of the investment philosophy assert that the strategy seeks outcomes in social causes, such as reducing emissions and achieving racial diversity, in a manner that compromises or distracts from profit maximization.
“It is my responsibility to ensure Oklahoman’s tax dollars will not be used to enrich organizations that act counter to our taxpayers’ interests and our values,” Russ remarked. “This questionnaire provides an opportunity for financial companies to attest to their business actions as they relate to Oklahoma. Other states are taking similar steps, and Oklahoma joins them in asserting that we will not do business with financial companies who discriminate against or boycott our energy industries and businesses.”
The action comes after Republican state treasurers divested some $12 billion from asset manager BlackRock last year over the firm’s promotion of the ESG movement. The Oklahoma Public Retirement System invested roughly $7.4 billion through BlackRock investment products as of two years ago; Russ said that the fund now has $10 billion in assets, constituting more than 60% of its overall portfolio, invested with BlackRock.
Texas similarly passed a law against asset managers “refusing to deal with” companies involved in the production and use of fossil fuels “without an ordinary business purpose.” State lawmakers recently hosted a hearing to determine the extent to which taxpayer funds were placed at risk as a result of firms’ adoption of ESG investment strategies.