17 AGs move to block BlackRock from buying up utilities, citing ESG concerns

Concerned about BlackRock’s activist investment practices, a group of 17 attorneys-general is trying to stop asset manager BlackRock making blanket purchases of utility services.

The group, led by Indiana Attorney-General Todd Rokita filed a motion with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Wednesday, challenging the firm’s authorization to buy large stakes of such companies. They argued that the firm was not a passive investment and would use its stakes to push a social and political agenda.

The AGs are closely monitoring a practice called Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance investing (ESG), in which asset managers consider such factors and do not only look to maximize profits. The critics of this practice warn that it may be a breach of fiduciary duties owed to investors by a company.

The AGs are specifically seeking to intervene to FERC to reapprove a blanket authorization for a three-year period to “purchase or acquire voting securities from any ‘public utilities,’ a ‘transmitting company’, a ‘electricity utility company’, or a ‘holding company within a holding system that includes a transmitting company or electric utility’.”

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The AGs point out that FERC only approves such authorizations if they are “consistent” with public interest, in light of rates, competition and regulation. They then note that BlackRock has obtained such permissions repeatedly by claiming that it is either a “passive investor” or a “non-controlling” investor that does not “change or influence the control of an issuer”, or “exercise control over day-today management or operation.”

The AGs assert that BlackRock has become an environmental activist after adopting ESG practices. They say, “Maybe BlackRock used to be a passive investor, but now it is a proponent of ESG.” BlackRock’s public commitments contradict its statements to the Commission.

In a release announcing his motion, Rokita criticized BlackRock’s ESG initiatives for attempting to bypass the public in order to impose unpopular mandates on the environment without voting.

He said: “This is another example of radicals leftists circumventing the will of Americans to implement their draconian directives.” The restrictions that these elitists want to impose on utilities and energy companies would not be approved at the polls.

He continued: “Investment companies that build their business models around maximizing returns for clients serve the public interest.” “The public interest is hijacked if these companies use their clients’ money to satisfy leftist fantasies,” he continued.