Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt passionately defended the state’s anti-ESG law after a judge temporarily blocked it from being enforced.

“We’re not going to let companies come into Oklahoma and attack our oil and gas industry,” Stitt said about the 2022 law. “That’s what the treasurer is trying to do, and we certainly support the treasurer in that effort.”

During a news conference Friday, Stitt aligned himself with Treasurer Todd Russ after the state attorney general intervened to block Russ’ participation in the legal proceedings. Russ oversees the list of financial institutions endorsing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) policies, which often alienate oil and gas interests.

In response to the judge’s Tuesday ruling, Russ expressed his disagreement and pledged to appeal.

“I am solely looking out for the financial interests of the citizens of Oklahoma and its industries,” Russ said. “This ruling is not going to stop the fight for Oklahomans against activists using ESG in state.”

However, before Russ could challenge the ruling, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond abruptly dismissed the lead attorney and sidelined Russ, leading to accusations of a “cozy relationship” between Drummond and one of the financial institutions listed by Russ.

A notable lineup of financial institutions, including BlackRock, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, State Street, and Climate First Bank, found themselves on Russ’ list due to their ESG policies.

Enacted under the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act of 2022, the law prohibits these financial institutions from engaging in business in Oklahoma. Russ is tasked with managing the list.

The law prompted a legal challenge from Don Keenan, former president of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, resulting in the temporary injunction issued Tuesday by Oklahoma County District Judge Sheila Stinson.

Initial attempts by Russ to involve the attorney general’s office were rebuffed, leading Russ to proceed independently. Drummond’s intervention Thursday, including the removal of the lead attorney and exclusion of Russ from the case, stirred controversy.

“When asking the attorney general to take my case, he refused. So, I was left with no other choice but to choose who I was most comfortable representing me,” Russ explained in a statement. “My constitutional office as the state treasurer makes me party to the lawsuit, and therefore I don’t believe my decision-making authority can be removed.”

Drummond countered with his own statement: “No longer will I allow professional courtesy to influence my decisions on this matter. Effective immediately, I have terminated Treasurer Russ’ hand-picked counsel and removed the treasurer from any decision-making role in the lawsuit. My office will handle all elements of the case moving forward.”

Asked about Drummond’s actions, Stitt said, “That was kind of unusual.”

“We support [Russ’] outside counsel,” Stitt added. “I know the treasurer found the very best.”

Drummond’s decision sparked speculation about his motives, amplified by the American Accountability Foundation’s disclosure of an email exchange between Drummond and BlackRock representatives from May 12, 2023.

Drummond wrote, “I would like to continue our productive corporate-state partnership.”

As the legal battle unfolds, Drummond said he is now focused on winning the case.

“It is extremely disappointing that the counsel hired by Treasurer Russ was unable to secure a favorable ruling in defense of Oklahoma’s anti-ESG law,” Drummond said. “Because of this failure, the law is now on hold and at risk of being struck down entirely. Oklahomans deserve better.”

Drummond is a potential candidate for a gubernatorial run in 2026 with Stitt limited to two terms.

Russ, meanwhile, remains resolute in his commitment to uphold the law and optimistic about the prospects of a successful appeal.

“I am disappointed with the outcome but have several facts for appeal,” he said. “I had hoped to have the attorney general as my defender all along.”