Attorney General Jason Miyares. (Ned Oliver / Virginia Mercury)
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares is joining 18 other states in an investigation of six major American banks over their environmental, social and governance, or ESG, investing, citing harms to Virginia farmers and companies.
ESG is an umbrella term used to describe companies’ consideration of environmental, social and governance factors such as climate change and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in their business dealings.
In a news release from Miyares’ office Wednesday, the first-term Republican attorney general said Virginia joined 18 other states in serving six major American banks with a civil investigative demand, which acts as a subpoena, for the institutions to produce documents related to their involvement with the United Nations Net-Zero Banking Alliance.
The banks are Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo.
The alliance is a collection of banks representing about 40% of global banking assets that have committed to structure their lending investment portfolios to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
Miyares in his release said the alliance includes American companies and punishes Virginia farmers and Virginia companies that deal with fossil fuel-related activities.
“Virginians are not subject to UN business standards,” Miyares said. “That’s why I’ve joined a coalition of attorney generals investigating six major American banks for ceding authority to a foreign body.”
The pushback against ESG investments has been spurred by Republican-led states including Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has cast himself as fighting the imposition of a “woke” mentality on businesses, and Texas, which has passed legislation requiring state pension funds to divest from companies that “boycott” energy companies. Lawyers told CNBC earlier this month that the independence of the banks likely protects them from charges of violating antitrust law, unless a coordinated effort among the members can be demonstrated.
BlackRock, which has publicly said it remains committed to investing in energy companies, has been a primary target of the pushback.
Missouri is leading the investigation and is joined by Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas, all of which have Republican attorneys general. Miyares’ release said five other states involved in the investigation can’t be named due to state laws or regulations regarding confidentiality.
This August, Miyares announced Virginia would also join a Missouri-led investigation into ESG investing ratings companies Morningstar, Inc. and Sustainalytics for alleged violations of state consumer protection laws. In a release by the Office of the Attorney General, Miyares said there had been “credible allegations” that the companies “allow(ed) anti-Israel bias to infect the ESG ratings they provided to investors.”
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