What public companies need to know about environmental disclosures, including recent climate risk and ESG disclosure initiatives.
By Jeffrey Karp, Senior Counsel; Vic Baltera, Partner; Howard Berkenblit, Partner; and Edward Mahaffey, Law Clerk
In fulfilling disclosure obligations under the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, public companies are required to disclose various potential environmental liabilities and potential risks in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC or Commission). During the 1970s, SEC efforts in the area of environmental disclosure focused primarily on statutes such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.
Subsequently, disclosure requirements were expanded to also encompass liabilities and cleanup costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). Over time, the SEC increasingly has emphasized broader disclosure of environmental matters, as the Commission further articulated the materiality standards for disclosure under the securities laws. These standards provide that information is material if there is a substantial likelihood that a reasonable investor would consider it important in deciding how to vote or in making an investment decision—in other words, "that the disclosure of the omitted fact would have been viewed by the reasonable investor as having significantly altered the 'total mix' of information made available.'" See Basic, Inc. v. Levinson, 485 U.S. 224, 231 (1988) (quoting TSC Indus., Inc. v. Northway, Inc., 426 U.S. 438, 449 (1976)).
SEC disclosure requirements for environmental liabilities are contained primarily in the uniform disclosure rules of ...
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