Coal vs. Wall Street – The New York Times


Climate change isn’t a partisan issue in many countries. Both right-leaning and left-leaning parties favor policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even if they fight over the specifics of those policies. This consensus allowed the European Union to cut emissions sharply over the past few decades, as the threat of global warming became clearer.

In the United States, of course, climate is a partisan issue. Nearly all elected Democrats favor actions that slow climate change. Almost no Republicans in major policymaking positions — including members of Congress and the Republican appointees on the Supreme Court — support these policies.

Today, The Times is publishing a story that examines another part of this issue, at the state level. I’m turning over the rest of today’s lead newsletter item to my colleague David Gelles, who wrote the story.

Since the election of President Donald Trump, American corporations have been increasingly drawn into the country’s culture wars. Big companies — like Google and Coca-Cola — have decided that they need to take positions on issues, including immigration, climate change, gun laws and voting rights.

Corporate America’s stances on these issues have been an attempt to reflect the values of its employees and customers, many of whom are younger and live in major metropolitan areas. As a result, these corporate positions have generally aligned with those of the Democratic Party, which has led to a fair bit of hand-wringing by Republicans. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, at one point warned companies to “stay out of politics,” and other conservatives have scoffed at “woke capitalism.”

Recently, Republican officials have also begun finding ways to hit back. Florida lawmakers this year stripped Disney of a special tax status because the company opposed a new education law that opponents call “Don’t Say Gay.” But perhaps the party’s most significant effort has received relatively little attention so far: Republican state treasurers are taking steps to punish companies that they say are unduly focused on environmental issues.

Last week, Riley Moore, the treasurer of West Virginia, used a new state law to ban five Wall Street firms, including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, from doing business with the state, because, he said, the companies were distancing themselves from the coal industry.

Similar bans are probably on the way elsewhere. Lawmakers in a handful of other states, including Kentucky and Oklahoma, have already passed laws that resemble the one in West Virginia. In a dozen more states, legislators are at work on similar bills.

Treasurers in three states have also withdrawn a combined $700 million from investment funds managed by BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, over objections to its stance on environmental issues.

These efforts to penalize companies are part of a larger push by Republican treasurers to promote fossil fuels and thwart climate action at both the federal and state levels. The treasurers are working in concert with a network of conservative groups that have ties to the fossil fuel industry, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Heartland Institute.

When I spoke with Moore, he framed his efforts to punish the Wall Street firms as a way to protect the livelihoods of West Virginians. If the banks don’t want to do business with coal companies, he said, why should he do business with them?

In response, the banks say that coal is a bad investment and that all industries are going to have to contend with climate change. Bank officials add that they still do plenty of business with oil and gas companies.

Still, these battles move the U.S. closer to a world of red brands and blue brands, in which politics will come to affect parts of life that once seemed separate from it. People on both sides of the aisle are concerned that things have gone too far.

“I don’t like the idea that if you’re a Republican, you have to bank with this company, and if you’re a Democrat, you have to bank with that company,” said Noah Friend, a Republican lawyer who previously worked for Kentucky’s treasurer, one of the officials trying to stop climate action. “We already have a lot of divisions in this country.”

But it seems unlikely that the trend will stop anytime soon. For both Democrats and Republicans, the substance of these fights — on the climate, civil rights, religious freedom and more — tends to matter more than the abstract principle that not everything should be partisan.

You can read my story, which includes details about the many ways that Republican treasurers are promoting fossil fuels, here.

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