The Biden administration will not enforce two Trump-era rules involving retirement plans, including one that effectively discouraged administrators for those plans from choosing investments based on environmental, social and governance considerations, the Labor Department said on Wednesday.
The second rule required retirement plan administrators — who serve as fiduciaries and must act solely in the interest of plan participants — to consider a complex list of principles before casting proxy votes on shareholder proposals, which may have discouraged plans from voting altogether. If fiduciaries decided to vote, and the rule makes clear that isn’t required, they must only support causes and goals in the plan’s financial interest.
Both regulations, which were finalized by the Trump administration late last year and took effect in January, will be rewritten and then formally proposed in the months ahead.
“These rules have created a perception that fiduciaries are at risk if they include any environmental, social and governance factors in the financial evaluation of plan investments,” Ali Khawar, principal deputy assistant secretary at the department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration, said in a statement. The rules also made it seem as if retirement plan sponsors had to have “special justifications for even ordinary exercises of shareholder rights,” Mr. Khawar said.
The Labor Department had already met with a variety of stakeholders on these issues, including asset managers, labor groups, plan sponsors and consumer advocates, Mr. Khawar said in an interview. And coming away from those meetings, he said it appeared that the rules had a “chilling effect” on using so-called E.S.G. factors in investment decisions and exercising their shareholder rights.
“In a number of instances, even when they were engaged in the kinds of activities that these rules were supposed to explicitly allow, there was a tremendous concern whether they can engage in those activities,” he said.
The agency plans to continue these discussions as it formulates new rules, and will update its website as more information became available, Mr. Khawar said.