West Virginia won’t use BlackRock’s investment funds any longer as part of its banking transactions, positioning itself as defending poor, defenseless American fossil fuel companies. The boycott is based on BlackRock’s recent public statements on climate—but ignores the realities of where the financial giant is actually putting its money.
In a press release published Monday, West Virginia State Treasurer Riley Moore huffed and puffed about BlackRock’s recent sustainability initiatives, including encouraging net zero policies, as well as the bank’s investments in certain Chinese companies. Conservative media have targeted the bank in recent months, accusing it of pursuing “woke” climate policies while pouring money into Chinese investments that they say threaten the U.S.
“BlackRock CEO Larry Fink has been outspoken in pressuring corporate leaders to commit to investment goals that will undermine reliable energy sources like coal, natural gas, and oil under the guise of helping the planet, but at the same time he’s pouring billions in new capital into China, turning a blind eye to abhorrent human rights violations, genocide, and that country’s role in creating the covid-19 global pandemic,” Moore said in the release.
Last year, Moore made local headlines when he led a coalition of 14 state treasurers from around the country to oppose what they said was the Biden administration’s effort to pressure banks to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry. In a letter sent to the White House last May, Moore and the treasurers cited a Politico article describing climate envoy John Kerry’s efforts to sway banks on climate, accusing the federal government of “bully[ing] corporations into curtailing legal activities” and “picking economic winners and losers.” He’s also called not financing fossil fuels “completely un-American.”
This is all part of the growing cultural war front tied to fossil fuel extraction. Republican politicians have tried to make the act of preserving a habitable biosphere “woke,” which... OK? During the early days of the pandemic, Republicans in Congress implored the Trump administration to make banks stop picking on poor oil companies just trying to drill the Arctic. The administration got the message, with then-Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette calling it “redlining,” a truly wild callback to racist housing practices. Oil-and-gas-loving Texas has introduced legislation to punish financial institutions that want to “boycott” fossil fuels, which ALEC promptly borrowed to draft legislation for other states to push back on “woke capitalism” (its words, not ours).
Targeting BlackRock is the real tell, though. The firm is an incredibly influential financial player with $7 trillion in investments worldwide. BlackRock and CEO Larry Fink has made a lot of noise in recent years on its commitment to the climate, but the bank’s actual track record on climate and investment in fossil fuels show it’s not the boogeyman Moore claims it is. Far from it, in fact.
BlackRock has billions invested in fossil fuels and continues to make more investments, including taking a majority ownership in a $15.5 billion pipeline deal with Saudi Aramco just last month. The firm has also kicked more than $2 billion to companies extracting crude oil in the Amazon. Even West Virginia’s coal industry might have nothing to fear: BlackRock had more than $1 trillion invested around the world in coal projects as of last year, including $24 billion in investments in companies that plan to expand their coal businesses. (Someone might want to tell Moore about that.)
That’s not likely to change any time soon. In his yearly letter to investors released Monday (titled, ominously, “The Power of Capitalism”), Fink defended the firm’s strategy, claiming that it was not driven by a desire to be “woke,” but rather to make money. That means that divestment is not on the table. “Divesting from entire sectors — or simply passing carbon-intensive assets from public markets to private markets — will not get the world to net zero,” he wrote. “And BlackRock does not pursue divestment from oil and gas companies as a policy.”
Sounds like BlackRock and Moore might be on the same team after all.