Executive Order Includes Review of ESG Factors in Retirement Plans

Last week, President Biden issued an Executive Order on Climate-Related Financial Risk, which includes a directive to the Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary to consider publishing, by September 2021, a proposed rule to suspend, revise, or rescind the Financial Factors in Selecting Plan Investments and Fiduciary Duties Regarding Proxy Voting and Shareholder Rights final rules that were published during the Trump administration regarding environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investments and proxy voting by employee benefit plans.

The Secretary is also directed to identify what actions the DOL can take under ERISA and the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act to “protect the life savings and pensions of United States workers and families from the threats of climate-related financial risk,” along with assessing “how the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board has taken environmental, social, and governance factors, including climate-related financial risk, into account.”

Within 180 days, the Secretary is to submit a report to the President on the actions taken in response to this executive order.

This executive order follows the DOL Employee Benefits Security Administration’s March 10, 2021 announcement that it would not enforce either of the final rules until it publishes further guidance. That announcement arose from a January 25, 2021 executive order directing federal agencies to review existing regulations.