Pence Rips Socially Conscious Investing, Wants to ‘Rein In’ ESG

(Bloomberg) – Former Vice President Mike Pence is criticizing investor-activist campaigns to force companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. to follow socially conscious investing principles, saying they elevate “left-wing” goals over the interests of businesses and their employees.

Pence, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, is delivering an energy policy speech on Tuesday in Houston and is expected to call for states such as Texas to “rein in” the push for employee pension funds to use environmental, social and governance principles in investing , according to excerpts of his prepared remarks.

The former vice president is citing activist investor Engine No. 1, which was backed by BlackRock Inc. last year as it mounted a successful proxy campaign that led to the replacement of three directors on Exxon’s board. “Those individuals now work to undermine the company from the inside,” Pence will say, according to the excerpts.

ESG investing – the use of environmental, social and governance factors in decision making – has become one of the hottest areas in finance in recent years, with the global market adding as much as $ 40 trillion in assets, according to estimates from Bloomberg Intelligence.

But the strategy has drawn the ire of lawmakers in some states. Officials in Utah and West Virginia have pressed S&P Global Ratings to scrap a system that scores US states based on their ESG-related credentials. In Texas, officials are asking finance firms to disclose their climate policies, including whether they’re limiting business with energy companies.

Finance was always meant to facilitate investment and spur economic growth that benefits the entire US, Pence is expected to say. But President Joe Biden and government regulators are “weaponizing the financial system to the exact opposite,” he is expected to argue.

Republican accusations that environmentalists are “weaponizing” the financial system against oil companies have been circulating in Texas for some time, but Pence’s comments are among the most aggressive yet. The growth of ESG investing has pushed some of Wall Street’s biggest investors to become much more active in proxy campaigns.

GOP lawmakers and powerful industry groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, have opposed increased activity by financial watchdogs on ESG issues during the Biden administration, even as Biden has called for increased oil and gas production to help reduce fuel prices.

One proposal by the Securities and Exchange Commission would require businesses to reveal the risks a warming planet poses to their operations when they file regulatory statements.

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