A RELATIVELY NEW front in the culture wars is emanating from the realm of finance: the push to increase financial investments that take into account “environmental, social, and governance” considerations. What is known in the finance industry as ESG has grown considerably over the past decade. According to the Global Fossil Fuel Divestment Commitments Database, the amount of wealth divested from fossil fuels worldwide has grown from $52 billion in 2014 to more than $40 trillion last year. But the increased visibility and prominence of ESG investing has triggered a backlash, with at least seven GOP-controlled states enacting anti-ESG policies and 15 others introducing bills to disallow the application of ESG principles in state investments such as pensions.
The anti-ESG push is coming from the usual suspects. Texas is heavily involved, due to the prominence of the fossil fuel industry in the state’s economy. Right-wing groups such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council have also been big promoters of model anti-ESG legislation. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has formed a coalition with more than 20 of his counterparts to challenge the Securities and Exchange Commission’s ability to implement a climate disclosure rule, a case that could end up at the Supreme Court and hobble the executive branch’s ability to interpret and act on congressional statutes. Apparently, many conservative activists and politicians are only champions of the “free market” when it advances their ideological agendas.