DOL Proposes Changes to Undo Trump ESG Investment Rules (in the midst of 60-day comment period)

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released a proposal that would overturn two rules implemented by the Trump administration that imposed restrictions on the way that retirement plans could assess environmental, social, and governance factors in their investment decisions.

This proposal comes after a long period of outreach to financial institutions, labor organizations, and other institutions concerning a pair of Trump administration final rules amending the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

 “The proposed rule announced today will bolster the resilience of workers’ retirement savings and pensions by removing the artificial impediments — and chilling effect on environmental, social, and governance investments — caused by the prior administration’s rules,” Department of Labor spokesperson Ali Khawar said in a statement released on October 13, 2021

The former administration’s regulations amended ERISA rules regarding environmental, social, and governance funds, which consider companies’ environmental and social impact as well as their corporate governance.

The proposed rule’s unpublished text stated that the “new rules may have inadvertently caused more confusion than clarity.” Many stakeholders have indicated that the rules have been interpreted as putting a thumb on the scale against the consideration of ESG factors, even when those factors are financially material,” Khawar stated.

These regulations had banned employers from infusing workers’ retirement savings in investments advertised as socially conscious unless the funds were expected to perform well financially. The regulations also curbed proxy voting on social or political goals.

In January, the Biden administration issued an executive order that directed the DOL to evaluate any Trump-era rule that could potentially contradict the order’s directive of “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.” In March, the DOL announced that it would suspend the 2020 final rules until developing and adopting new regulations. The public comment period for the proposed rule began Thursday, October 14th and will close on December 13th, 2021.

HBL has experience in all areas of benefits and employment law, offering a comprehensive solution to all your business benefits and HR/employment needs. We help ensure you are in compliance with the complex requirements of ERISA and the IRS code, as well as those laws that impact you and your employees. Together, we reduce your exposure to potential legal or financial penalties. Learn more by calling 470-571-1007.

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Hall Benefits Law, LLC

HBL offers employers comprehensive legal guidance on benefits in mergers and acquisitions, Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs), executive compensation, health and welfare benefits, healthcare reform, and retirement plans. We counsel a wide spectrum of clients including small, mid-sized, and large companies, 401(k) investment advisors, health insurance brokers, accountants, attorneys, and HR consultants, just to name a few. HBL is passionate about advising clients, and we are dedicated to our mission: to provide comprehensive, personalized, and practical ERISA and benefits legal solutions that exceed client expectations.

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