Nearly two dozen financial firms under pressure from Texas to avoid divesting from the fossil fuel industry have told the state that they don’t “boycott” the industry.
The reassurances came after Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s office asked several firms about their policies on environmental standards, given the corporate push to move toward renewable energy. He also asked the companies for a list of any mutual funds or exchange-traded funds in their portfolios that prohibit or limit investment in fossil fuels.
So far, 20 firms have responded to Hegar’s inquiry, according to Bloomberg, which obtained letters through a public records request.
JPMorgan Chase, for instance, had $42.6 billion worth of credit exposure to oil and gas ventures as of late last year, according to a letter to Hegar from Stacey Friedman, the executive vice president and general counsel for JPMorgan.
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“We would like to note at the outset that we provide financial products and services to many companies that engage in the exploration, production, utilization, transportation, sale, or manufacturing of fossil fuel-based energy (“energy companies”), and intend to do so in the future,” Friedman said.
John Alban, the CEO of Dallas-based Cushing Asset Management, said bluntly, “Hell no,” in response to whether his firm was divesting from the energy industry. He said that while his firm has expanded into the renewable energy market, it has “long been in the business of investing in traditional oil and gas firms.”
In HSBC’s letter, the company said that it continues to provide financial services to energy companies in Texas, although it hopes to have its portfolio customers at net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.
“HSBC does not consider itself to be a company which ‘boycotts’ financing of energy companies,” its letter read. “HSBC believes it can have the biggest impact on climate action by actively engaging with its clients on their transition, focusing on the need for robust and credible transition plans, and by providing the financing and advisory solutions that help unlock the investments needed.”
Investment giant BlackRock preempted the request and reached out to Texas officials earlier this year to guarantee Hegar’s office that it wants energy firms in the state to “succeed and prosper” and that it would keep investing there.
Out of the 22 financial firms that responded to Hegar, only two (Reynders, McVeigh Capital Management, and Rathbones Group Plc) didn’t explicitly say whether or not they boycotted energy companies.
Energy investment is a big deal in Texas and for the state’s economy. Because of that, officials are working hard to safeguard business in the state. Texas accounted for 43% of crude oil production in 2020 and produced more natural gas that year than any state.
Public pressure has been growing for companies to follow environmental, social, and governance standards from both the private sector and the government. Because much of that pressure involves businesses’ handling of carbon emissions and the fossil fuel industry, policymakers in some oil- and coal-heavy states have begun pushing back.
Last year, more than a dozen state treasurers, led by West Virginia state Treasurer Riley Moore, wrote to presidential climate envoy John Kerry suggesting that they would pull state assets from firms that are trying to decarbonize their investments.
BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, has been at the forefront of the ESG movement, with CEO Larry Fink proclaiming two years ago that climate change would be a “defining factor” in his firm’s investment assessments.
Moore went after BlackRock earlier this year when he said that the state would stop using one of the firm’s investment funds. Moore said the inflows and outflows of that fund were about $1.5 billion.
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“We saw a very clear conflict of interest for us to continue to do business with BlackRock, particularly as it relates to their stance on the fossil fuel industry,” he told the Washington Examiner.
At the federal level, the Biden administration is pushing proposed rulemaking that would mandate companies to produce climate-related disclosures, most notably through the Securities and Exchange Commission — a form of indirect pressure on fossil fuel companies.