This emblematic two-part story of climate deception starts with a new rule from Donald Trump’s Labor Department. Coming at a moment when fossil fuel companies and their investors are facing huge losses, the Trump rule aims to make it more difficult for pension and 401k administrators to shift workers’ savings out of fossil fuel assets and into so-called ESG investments, which factor in environmental, social and corporate governance considerations.
The proposal is supported by Koch-linked conservative thinktanks; the Republican-leaning National Association of Manufacturers; a group of climate-denying GOP lawmakers; and fossil fuel interests such as the North American Coal Company and the Western Energy Alliance.
The Western Energy Alliance says it “represents over 300 companies engaged in all aspects of environmentally responsible exploration and production of oil and natural gas,” and its comment letter supporting the rule underscores the real agenda behind the Labor Department proposal.
“We have observed how ESG advocacy has negatively affected the industry’s access to capital over the last few years, and greatly appreciate that (the Labor Department) is addressing the larger issue through this rule,” the alliance wrote. “The rule will help ensure that activism regarding pension plans does not morph into a halt to investment in the sector that provides nearly 70 percent of American energy.”
In other words: Big Oil is effectively arguing that the climate movement’s push to shift investors’ money out of fossil fuel assets and into renewables has been too successful, and so polluters are asking the government to intervene with a special rule to staunch the bleeding.
Trump officials aren’t explicitly admitting that this is their real motivation. Instead, they purport to be concerned that “a lack of precision and rigor in the ESG investment marketplace” means “there is no consensus about what constitutes a genuine ESG investment.” And yet, that’s a problem that Trump’s government is actively creating: His administration’s Securities and Exchange Commission is refusing to use its power to require corporations to more thoroughly disclose their exposure to climate risks, consequently making it harder for financial managers to evaluate investments’ environmental impacts.