North Carolina bill that would ban ESG investment policies stalls

The bill was slated for a hearing in the House State Government Committee on Thursday but was removed from the calendar.

Published: April 27, 2023 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

A North Carolina bill to prohibit state agencies and subdivisions from using environmental, social and governance factors in hiring and financial decisions is on hold after it was left off a committee calendar.

House Bill 750 would ban state agencies, political subdivisions, trusts, committees, or commissions from using ESG policies in employment decisions. The bill would also ban ESG policies for administration of state employee pension plans or in state contracts.

The bill was slated for a hearing in the House State Government Committee on Thursday but was removed from the calendar.

HB 750 would further prohibit economically targeted investments, which the bill defines collectively with ESG as "using a set of standards to screen potential investments based upon the perceived impact to the environment and the social relationships between a company’s employees and the community. The term also includes how a company’s leadership is structured in support of those standards."

It follows criticism from state Treasurer Dale Folwell, a Republican candidate for governor, over BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s focus on ESG initiatives that Folwell described in December as "wacktivism."

North Carolina Retirement Systems invests about $14 billion through BlackRock in mostly passive funds and about $55 million in BlackRock stocks or bonds. Under Fink's leadership, BlackRock has leveraged its position as one of the world's largest asset managers with $9.5 trillion under management to push companies to adopt ESG policies with the help of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero and Climate Action 100+.

The ESG initiatives, which screen investments based on how companies address climate change and other social issues, have drawn fierce backlash from conservatives who oppose the forced transition to "clean energy" and the social policies ESG promotes.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Fink's political agenda has gotten in the way of his same fiduciary duty," Folwell argued in December when he called for Fink’s resignation. "A focus on ESG is not a focus on returns and potentially could force us to violate our own fiduciary duty of loyalty.

"Ultimately, Mr. Fink's continued ideological pressure could result in using ESG scores against states and local governments, lowering their credit ratings and thus driving up their cost of borrowing at taxpayers' expense."

Folwell manages the ninth-largest public pension in the country at $111.4 billion.

HB750 would require fiduciaries of the state’s pension plans to "discharge duties with respect to a plan solely in the pecuniary interest of the participants and beneficiaries." Voting ownership interests would also be limited to the pecuniary interest of plan participants.

HB750 defines a pecuniary factor as one "that has a material effect on the financial risk or financial return of an investment based on appropriate investment horizons consistent with the plan’s investment objectives and funding policy."

The bill’s provisions on employment would ensure the most qualified are hired, regardless of their political perspective.

HB 750 is sponsored by Republican Reps. Destin Hall of Caldwell County, Jason Saine of Lincoln County, Celeste Cairns of Carteret County, and Neal Jackson of Moore County, along with 20 Republican co-sponsors.

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