One in four of every professionally invested U.S. dollar is tied to environmental, social and governance criteria. But the Trump administration’s latest proposed rule change may make it harder for ESG funds to attract interest from retirement plans.
On June 23, the Labor Department led by Secretary Eugene Scalia proposed an update to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) that would require those overseeing pension and 401(k) plans to always put economic interests ahead of “non-pecuniary” goals. The agency specifically called out ESG investing in its proposal. “After years of the Department of Labor having varying degrees of guidelines about if you can consider ESG factors, they are coming out definitively to say it’s not appropriate to consider,” said attorney Josh Lichtenstein, a partner in Ropes & Gray’s ERISA practice. That means that fiduciaries of pension and 401(k) plans could be forced to prove they selected investments based only on economic criteria.