Paul Hodgson: How could the Trump executive order on retirement funds and ESG play out in practice?

President Trump signed a pair of executive orders at a training center for petroleum industry workers near Houston last Wednesday. The aim was to expedite oil and gas pipeline projects – and limit the ability of retirement funds to pursue environmental or socially progressive investment strategies.

The first order directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to amend the Clean Water Act to limit states’ authority to block fossil fuel projects, the Transportation Department to update rules for natural-gas transportation and the Labor Department (DOL) to examine whether retirement funds with ESG agendas are not fulfilling their fiduciary duties.

The second order removes the Secretary of State’s authority over environmental reviews on pipelines that cross international borders and gives that power to the president. Trump had already signed an executive order attempting to kickstart the Keystone XL pipeline which remains mired in challenges. The deadline for Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to do this was 180 days from the order, i.e. October 6.