Wonk capitalism

Should EBSA let ESG in ERISA?


The House is voting today on a deeply wonky issue: the Employee Benefits Security Administration’s (EBSA) guidance on whether the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) allows pension plan fiduciaries to consider climate change and other environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors when they make investment decisions.

Without the EBSA/ERISA/ESG jargon, what is at stake is whether pension plans controlling trillions of dollars of assets can take climate change into account—what Republicans have helpfully dubbed “woke capitalism.”1

The Trump administration in its waning days issued a rule stating that plans could not consider social responsibility; in November the Biden Department of Labor overturned that rule, giving pension plans more flexibility.

Now House Republicans want to strike down the Biden rule, handcuffing pension plan administrators who, for example, dare to recognize that global warming is real. The vote on H.J.Res. 30 is scheduled for this afternoon, and is expected to fall along party lines, though it will certainly be instructive if any oil-patch Democrats vote for it.

With Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) in treatment at Walter Reed for depression, Senate Republicans have enough votes, thanks to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to pass the companion bill (S.J.Res. 8).

President Joe Biden will veto the legislation, but you can bet Republicans will be rewarded with another round of campaign checks from the fossil-fuel industry for this exercise.

Massive winter storms have struck the nation, from California to the Northeast; over 100,000 households are still without power in Michigan, with yesterday’s storm adding to the struggle to come back from last week’s deadly ice storm. Nine tornadoes barreled through Kansas and Oklahoma last night, including “an EF2 tornado that struck Oklahoma's third-largest city, Norman.” New York City saw its first measurable snowfall of the year.

Scientists at Princeton University calculate that back-to-back hurricanes “that used to happen once every few decades could happen every two or three years as the world warms from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas,” Seth Borenstein writes (in a nice demonstration of what unambiguous climate reporting looks like). In particular, the scientists find that while global warming isn’t necessarily increasing the total number of cyclonic storms, it is allowing stronger storms to bunch together. This makes intuitive sense, as cyclones derive their energy from warm ocean water, and the oceans are getting much hotter. But intuition doesn’t make for hours and hours of painstaking computer modeling!

This research is conveniently timely, as tomorrow Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is chairing a hearing on the threat of climate change to coastal communities.

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In a pair of House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee meetings, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) chaired a markup of eight bills backing the fossil-fuel and mining industries, from repealing all restrictions on the import and export of natural gas to prohibiting a moratorium on the use of hydraulic fracturing; and Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) chaired a markup of seven bills rolling back pollution controls on the fossil-fuel and mining industries, from repealing the new methane pollution tax to blocking proposed hydrofluoric acid regulations for oil refineries.

The House Natural Resources Committee hosted a pair of hearings with a parade of industry lobbyists in support of the TAP American Energy Act and Permitting for Mining Needs Act as well as Rep. Garret Graves’ (R-La.) BUILDER Act, which would gut the National Environmental Policy Act permit process. The Democratic witnesses included environmental law professor Mark Squillace and environmental justice activist John Beard, Jr. of the Port Arthur Community Action Network.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) chaired a markup of more polluter priorities, particularly H.J.Res. 47, which would roll back Biden’s new Waters of the United States protections for wetlands, and H.R. 1152, which would largely exempt fossil-fuel pipelines from the Clean Water Act.

Agriculture chair GT Thompson (R-Pa.) hosted six white men who all happen to be agribusiness lobbyists to discuss the future of American agriculture.

The League of Conservation Voters has released its Congressional scorecard for 2022. LCV double-counted the vote for the Inflation Reduction Act “given the tremendous importance” of the legislation. The scorecard also included the Senate vote on Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) pipeline-permitting plan, which was backed by President Joe Biden but opposed by the climate community. And, weirdly, by Republicans who thought Manchin’s plan wasn’t extreme enough (as compared to the BUILDER Act mentioned above).

Jerry Redfern explains what New Mexico’s budget battles mean for the future of the state’s oil and gas industry.

Hearings on the Hill:

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1 Honestly, I don’t think it’s that bad a name for the idea that society should be intentional with how it invests wealth. I don’t want to sleepwalk to climate apocalypse.

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