Lawsuits Mount Against SEC Climate Rules

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) headquarters in Washington, DC.

Almost two dozen Republican-led states have sued the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over its climate corporate disclosure rules released last week. (Bloomberg Law, March 12 – paywall | Roundtable Weekly, March 8)

Litigation Gauntlet

  • GOP attorneys general in 22 states allege the SEC acted beyond its authority by requiring companies to report certain GHG emissions and costs related to extreme weather.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce joined the “legal salvo” against the SEC. (POLITICO, March 15).
  • An SEC spokesperson stated the agency will “vigorously defend” petitions filed in the federal appeals courts for the Fifth, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuits. (Bloomberg Law, March 12)
  • These suits will likely rely on the “major questions” doctrine, raised in a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision that curtailed EPA’s authority to fight climate change. The doctrine provides that a federal agency must have “clear” authority from Congress to regulate issues of “vast economic and political significance.” (E&E News ClimateWire, March 11)
  • Meanwhile, environmental groups filed their own counter-suit in the D.C. Circuit. They claim that the SEC’s rules are too “water[ed] down” and fail to provide investors with “material” information on a company’s financial exposure to climate risks. (Newsweek, March 14).
  • It will take months for the SEC to run this court gauntlet. The November elections could shape the legal outcome before the suits are resolved, depending on which party controls Congress or the White House.

RER “Fact Sheet”

The Real Estate Roundtable's March 12, 2024 Fact Sheet on  "What CRE Needs to Know" about the SEC's Climate Disclosure Rules.
  • Assuming the SEC’s rules are not delayed, the largest public companies must comply with climate-related disclosures in Form 10-Ks filed during fiscal year 2025. (SEC fact sheet, March 6)
  • The Real Estate Roundtable has issued its own fact sheet summarizing “What CRE Should Know” about the SEC’s final climate disclosure rules. (RER Fact Sheet, updated March 12).

The Roundtable’s Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee (SPAC) continues to study the new SEC regulations and plans to hold educational sessions at its June 21 meeting in Washington as part of RER’s annual meeting.

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SEC Releases Climate Disclosure Rules

SEC logo and text

On March 6, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released long-awaited final “Climate Disclosure Rules” that establish federal regulations for registered companies to disclose climate-related financial risks and opportunities. The Real Estate Roundtable has prepared a fact sheet summarizing “What CRE Should Know” about the new SEC rules.

Overview of the SEC Rules

  • The rules require certain registrants to report “material” financial impacts to address storms, wildfires, sea level rise, and other events attributable to climate change (SEC news release, March 6)
  • Certain climate-related expenses and costs must be quantified and disclosed in audited financial statements filed annually as part of Form 10-K.
  • The rules also expand disclosures in narrative “items” included in a 10-K, such as descriptions of “physical” and “transition” risks from extreme weather and related events.
  • The SEC’s final rules impose no requirements to report Scope 3 emissions from sources in a company’s “value chain” – following the position advocated by the Roundtable in 2022 comments. (Roundtable Weekly, June 10, 2022)
  • “The SEC’s decision to drop proposed Scope 3 reporting was the right move,” said Roundtable President and CEO, Jeff DeBoer. “It would have imposed onerous financial and paperwork burdens for commercial real estate owners and failed to produce reliable and useful emission information for investors.”
  • The Climate Disclosure Rules phase-in and ramp-up over time. The largest companies (in terms of the amount of shares held by public investors) must start complying in 2025. (RER Fact Sheet)

Impacts on CRE 

The Roundtable’s Fact Sheet on the SEC’s Climate Disclosure Rules
  • CRE registrants should become familiar with the new rules if they voluntarily set corporate “targets” to reduce emissions in their buildings or portfolios, or own assets located in cities or states with building performance mandates.
  • Companies that purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs) or carbon offsets may also be subject to SEC disclosures.
  • CRE owners and financial firms with “lifecycle” cap ex investment plans for building electrification may also be subject to new reporting.
  • The SEC’s rules do not preempt similar state requirements. For example, companies regulated by California’s climate disclosure laws passed in 2022 must satisfy those rules in addition to SEC rules. (Roundtable summary of the California legislation and Roundtable Weekly, Sept. 22)
  • The courts may ultimately decide the legality of the SEC’s actions. Institutional investors might move the market toward the SEC’s rules even if they are stalled or struck in court.

The Roundtable’s Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee (SPAC) will continue to assess the implications of the SEC’s rules and convene our members to develop industry standards and practices for compliance.

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Congress Punts Funding Deadlines … SEC to Vote March 6 on Climate Disclosures … Roundtable Urges EB-5 Guidance Correction

A bill passed by both chambers of Congress yesterday and signed by President Biden today punts a set of government funding deadlines to March 8 and 22, thereby preventing a partial government shutdown that was scheduled to start at midnight. (ABC News, March 1 | House bill text)

New Stopgap Goals

  • The new two-tiered stopgap bill gives policymakers some time to negotiate a full-year appropriations bill as a House-passed tax package is under consideration in the Senate. (See tax story below).
  • On Wednesday, congressional leaders announced the deal, which extends funding for the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Energy, Transportation, and others from March 1 through March 8. The bill also extends funding for the Pentagon, Health and Human Services, Labor, and other agencies from March 8 through March 22.

SEC to Vote March 6 on Climate Rule

  • The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced a vote next week on whether it will adopt final rules requiring companies to provide certain climate-related information in their registration statements and annual reports.
  • The SEC’s “open meeting” to consider the climate rule will take place on Wednesday, March 6 at 9:45 am and will be webcast at www.sec.gov.

Roundtable Urges Congress to Correct EB-5 Guidance

  • The Real Estate Roundtable urged the leaders of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees this week to correct defective “guidance” enacted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that is undermining the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022 (RIA). [Roundtable EB-5 letter, Feb. 28, 2024]
  • The USCIS’s arbitrary guidance states that EB-5 investments made after RIA’s enactment must “remain invested for at least two years.” This position contradicts regulations kept by USCIS on its rulebooks for decades.
  • RER’s letter also explains that USCIS’s defective guidance exacerbates CRE’s current liquidity issues. For example, the agency’s position effectively eliminates the availability of EB-5 investment capital to help finance projects to convert underutilized commercial buildings to multifamily housing.  

The Roundtable is calling on Congress to correct the error with a short statutory change that codifies the long-standing regulatory approach, which couples the periods for EB-5 capital sustainment and conditional residency.

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SEC Commissioner and Key Senators Support Further Analysis of Climate Disclosure Proposal

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) headquarters in Washington, DC

One of the commissioners from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and two U.S. Senators suggested this week that further analysis may be needed for a highly anticipated SEC rule on climate reporting, which includes a proposal for sweeping disclosures on Scope 3 GHG emissions. (Bloomberg Law, Nov. 7 | SEC headquarters in Washington, DC, above)

Stakeholder Comments

  • Given that the SEC has received more than 16,000 stakeholder comments on the proposal, Republican SEC Commissioner Mark Uyeda said, “Before the Commission adopts any final rule that significantly deviates from the proposal, it should seriously consider re-proposing the rule with revised rule text and an updated economic analysis.” (Ayuda’s comments, Nov. 7 and The Hill, April 6)
  • SEC Chair Chair Gary Gensler indicated in March that the agency’s climate-related reporting rule may be scaled back. (CNBC, March 7 and Roundtable Weekly, March 10)

Senators Support Additional Feedback

Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN), left 
Member, Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs
and Roundtable Board Member Geordy Johnson (CEO, The Johnson Group)
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN), left, and Roundtable Board Member Geordy Johnson (CEO, The Johnson Group) at The Roundtable’s 2023 Annual Meeting in June.
  • Sens. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) also expressed support this week for obtaining additional feedback about the SEC’s proposed rule. Sen. Manchin chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Sen. Hagerty serves on the Senate Banking Committee. (Hagerty-Manchin letter and PoliticoPro, Nov. 9)
  • The lawmakers wrote to SEC Chairman Gary Gensler about recent California state laws that require companies to disclose their emissions, which beat the SEC to the punch on releasing final climate reporting rules. (Roundtable Weekly, Sept. 22 and The Real Estate Roundtable’s summary of the California legislation.)
  • The Senators’ letter states, “The interconnectedness of the California requirements and the SEC’s proposal is undeniable: thousands of businesses would end up being subject to both the California requirements and the SEC’s rule, if finalized. However, key differences between the two raise significant compliance questions that the SEC should thoroughly review.”

Roundtable Comments on Scope 3

Philadelphia center city
  • Scope 3 refers to indirect emissions that are part of an organization’s value chain but not owned or controlled by the reporting company. The 2022 SEC proposal would require corporate issuers of securities to estimate and report Scope 3 emissions “if material” in 10-Ks and other filings. (SEC News Release, March 22, 2022)
  • Roundtable comments submitted in June 2022 emphasized that the SEC’s proposed directive, which would mandate that companies report on Scope 3 emissions “only if material,” is a “back-door mandate” that should be dropped. The comment letter added, “No registrant should be effectively required to report on indirect emissions beyond its organizational or operational boundaries.” (Roundtable Weekly, June 10, 2022),

The Roundtable’s Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee (SPAC) plans to respond to any further developments on the SEC’s proposed climate disclosure rule or other climate-related regulatory proposals affecting CRE.

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Congress Faces Short-Term Funding Measure to Prevent Government Shutdown by Sept. 30

Funding for the government will expire Sept. 30 if Congress cannot muster a short-term stopgap patch to keep federal agencies open and avoid a partial government shutdown. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) faces strong opposition from members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus to strike a deal with the Biden administration, which has submitted an additional $44 billion request for disaster relief, border security, and Ukraine. (CQ, Sept. 5 and AP, Aug. 21)

Flood Response Funding

  • An uncertain funding landscape dominates the prospects for legislative developments for the remainder of the year. If policymakers manage to pass a short-term “continuing resolution,” it could require a follow-on “omnibus” budget package for 2024 that may serve as the only must-pass vehicle to move other policy changes through Congress.
  • As the hurricane season picks up momentum, one government program affecting commercial real estate that is subject to the Sept. 30 funding deadline is The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Congress has enacted 25 short-term NFIP reauthorizations since 2017.
  • A new flood rating methodology (Risk Rating 2.0) in 2021 established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has attracted additional disagreement among policymakers after it was reported that resulting rate hikes could cause the loss of coverage for hundreds of thousands of policyholders. (Associated Press, July 22)
  • The Roundtable is a long-standing supporter of a long-term reauthorization of the NFIP with appropriate reforms that create long-term stability for policyholders, improved accuracy of flood maps, mitigation reforms, enhanced affordability, and the acceptance of non-NFIP policies for commercial properties. (Roundtable Weekly, June 30)

Tax and Other Policy

  • House Republican leaders hope to break an impasse in the GOP caucus over a tax relief package passed by the Ways and Means Committee that includes measures affecting commercial real estate. Committee Chairman Jason Smith (R-MO), above, spoke about his efforts to advance the tax measure during The Roundtable’s recent Annual Meeting. (Roundtable Weekly, June 16 and June 9) 
  • The committee bill has not reached the House floor for a vote due to opposition by members from high-tax states who want the package to include relief from the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions (SALT), enacted in the GOP’s 2017 tax law. (Washington Post, July 24 and  Roll Call). 
  • The tax package would extend expired business interest deductibility rules and 100% immediate expensing (bonus depreciation) for qualifying capital investments. Bonus depreciation is 80% in 2023 and gradually phasing down.
  • Two other tax issues with bipartisan support that may be folded into a negotiated end-of-year tax package are the expansion of The Roundtable-supported low-income housing tax credit and technical corrections to SECURE 2.0, a package of retirement provisions. (Tax Notes, Sept. 5)

Hearings & Climate Disclosure Rule

SEC Chair Gary Gensler
  • Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler will testify before the Senate Banking Committee on Sept. 12, followed by an expected appearance before the House Financial Services Committee on Sept. 27. (PoliticoPro, Aug. 28)
  • Committee members are likely to question Gensler about a highly anticipated climate disclosure rule and SEC proposals impacting advisory client assets and cybersecurity risk management. (Thomson Reuters, Aug. 22, “SEC Plans to Finalize 30 Proposed Rules in Near Term”)

The policy issues above and many more will be the focus of discussions during The Roundtable’s Fall Meeting (Roundtable-level members only) on Oct. 16-17 in Washington.

Reports Confirm Challenges in Scope 3 Reporting

Houston skyline

Reports released this month show the challenges companies face to quantify indirect “Scope 3” GHG emissions that emanate from an organization’s value chain. These studies support recent remarks from U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler that Scope 3 reporting is not “well-developed,” and “adjustments” could be made to the agency’s highly anticipated climate risk reporting rule. (CNBC, March 6 and Roundtable Weekly, March 10)

Reporting Categories

  • A report from environmental disclosure platform CDP examined survey responses from more than 18,700 companies. CDP found that a company’s limited influence over emissions in its supply chain, lack of data, and/or low-quality data are the biggest challenges for Scope 3 disclosures. 
    • CDP’s report noted that only 41% of responding companies reported on at least one of the 15 Scope 3 “indirect” emissions categories. In contrast, 72% of CDP-responding companies reported Scope 1 (“direct”) and/or Scope 2 (“electricity”) emissions. (ESG Today, March 15) 
    • The most commonly reported Scope 3 emission category (42%) reported by all sectors in was emissions from “business travel,” perhaps the easiest category to calculate. (CDP, Scope 3 Categories by all Sectors)

Real Estate & Scope 3

Scope 3 real estate sector percentages
  • A technical note to CDP’s report, above, provides statistics specifically on Scope 3 disclosures from building developers, owners, and REITs. According to CDP:
    • Scope 3 emissions on average contribute over 85% of a commercial real estate company’s entire footprint.
    • Embodied emissions from construction materials (steel, concrete) was the most significant Scope 3 category reported by 156 real estate companies.
    • “Downstream” emissions from tenants was the second most significant category, comprising 27% of total Scope 3 emissions and 25% of total Scope 1+2+3 emissions. 

Executives on Scope 3

Workiva-PwC report cover
  • A separate Workiva/PwC survey, above, on expected SEC disclosure requirements and ESG reporting compiles the responses of 300 executives at U.S.-based public companies.
  • Key findings from the “Change in the Climate” report include:
    • 95% of corporate executives say they are prioritizing ESG reporting more now than before the SEC’s proposed rule.
    • 36% don’t feel their company is staffed appropriately to meet the SEC’s proposed disclosure rule.
    • 60% of respondents said they would need an extra 1-3 years to estimate and report on Scope 3 emissions—after any Scopes 1 and 2 requirements take effect.
    • 61% of respondents believe the SEC rule will cost their companies at least $750K in the first year of compliance. 

Separately, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) this week commented on a proposed House of Representatives energy package (H.R. 1), which focused on measures impacting fossil fuels, as a “non-starter” for congressional negotiations. (Politico, March 15) 

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Roundtable Submits Comments to SEC on Climate Risk Disclosure Proposal

SEC logo and text

The Real Estate Roundtable submitted comments today to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on a proposed rule that would require all registered companies to disclose material financial risks related to climate change. The comments were developed with The Roundtable’s Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee (SPAC), chaired by Tony Malkin (Chairman, President and CEO of Empire State Realty Trust). (GlobeSt, March 22) 

Extensive Climate Risk Disclosures

  • The SEC’s proposal, “Enhancement and Standardization of Climate-Related Disclosures for Investors,” is a key component of the Biden Administration’s efforts to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. (CBS-AP | Bloomberg Axios, March 21)

  • If the rule is finalized, compliance would phase-in over the next several years. All SEC registrants would be required to quantify their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, assess the economic impact of rising sea levels related to their assets, and report in SEC filings (for the benefit of investors) on these and other climate-related risks through annual 10-Ks and additional filings. (SEC News Release | Proposed Rule | Fact Sheet, March 22)

  • The SEC’s extensive draft rule has raised significant concerns throughout the U.S. business community. (ClimateWire, June 2). The proposal includes new disclosure requirements for “Scope 3” GHG emissions, which are generated outside a business’ direct control by partners, suppliers, and consumers that make up the “value chain” of that business. (EPA Scope 3 Inventory Guidance and Fourkites).

Roundtable Response

CRE building with tree and sunshine
  • The Roundtable’s comment letter is summarized as follows:

    • Registered Companies Should Not be Required to Report on Emissions From Sources They Do Not Own or Control.
      When applied to the CRE context, this means that a building owner should not be under a mandate to report on emissions attributable to the operations of tenants in leased spaces. For example, emissions from metered electricity in a tenant-leased space should not be the CRE owner’s responsibility to report to the SEC.  

    • Create a “Safe Harbor” for Emissions Calculated with U.S. Government Data and Tools.
      Reporting companies should be protected by a “safe harbor” that insulates emissions disclosures from liability—in both SEC enforcement as well as private litigation—when calculations are based on the best, available, and most recent data and tools released by the federal government.

    • There Should be No Scope 3 Reporting “Mandate.”
      Scope 3 disclosures typically depend on GHG data possessed by suppliers and other businesses in a reporting company’s value chain. Registrants should not be under any Scope 3 disclosure mandate because they frequently cannot get the basic data to quantify those “indirect” estimates.

    • Wait Until a Registrant has a Full Year of “Actual” Data Before Requiring Emissions Disclosures.
      The proposal as written effectively requires two separate emissions disclosures each fiscal year. The SEC should only require emissions filings once a year—after a company has all of the “actual” data it needs to support and verify its calculations.

    • Financial Risks from Severe Weather Events Should be Subject to “Principles-Based” Reporting—As Opposed to One-Size-Fits-All “Prescriptive” Rules.
      Risks from floods, droughts, and similar events should be subject to narrative, “principles-based” reporting. The SEC should drop its proposed “prescriptive” rule that registrants should precisely quantify impacts from climate-related events if they have a one-percent or greater impact on any line item in a financial statement.  

Policymaker Concerns

  • The Biden administration is expected to push forward with a final rule that could be issued later this year.

  • Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, sent a letter to the SEC on April 4 outlining his concerns with the proposal.

  • Senate Republicans also expressed their opposition to the SEC proposal in an April 5 letter.

  • House Republicans have called for a hearing on the SEC’s proposal—signaling heightened oversight should they win the majority in this November’s mid-term elections. (E&E News, May 10)

The Roundtable’s comments to the SEC will be a focus of the SPAC meeting on June 17, held in conjunction with The Roundtable’s Annual Meeting.

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Roundtable Survey Seeks Members’ Input on SEC Climate Risk Disclosure Proposal

SEC building exterior

Real Estate Roundtable members received a survey earlier today that will help formulate comments in response to a proposed rule issued on March 21 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regarding corporate disclosures of climate-related financial risks. (Roundtable Weekly, March 25) 

Roundtable Member Participation 

  • The Roundtable requests that members respond to the SEC climate issues survey by COB April 11.

  • Before submitting responses to the survey, members are encouraged to review The Roundtable’s fact sheet summarizing the SEC’s proposed rule.
  • The survey sent today aims to obtain a high-level understanding of the existing practices and standards used by Roundtable members in assessing and quantifying the following:
    • greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across their portfolios,
    • their buildings’ electricity use,
    • impacts to their real estate assets from floods and rising sea levels,
    • how they interact with their tenants on these matters, and
    • similar questions that will likely require registered companies to report on their climate-related financial risks.
  • If any Roundtable member has questions about the survey, please contact Roundtable Senior Vice President and Counsel, Duane Desiderio.

SEC Climate Risk Proposal

Flooding of mixed used building

  • The proposed rule has no immediate effect. If the proposal is finalized, all companies registered with the SEC would be required to report, measure, and quantify “material” risks related to climate change in their annual Form 10-Ks and certain other filings. (SEC News Release | Proposed Rule | Fact Sheet, March 22)
  • Compliance would phase-in over the next several years. For example, registrants with a global market value of $700 million or more would need to comply first for filings in FY 2024 (covering FY 2023 emissions).
  • “Limited assurance” from independent third party verifiers, regarding so-called Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, would be required for the first two compliance years. Thereafter, “limited assurance” would ramp-up to “reasonable assurance” at a level provided in a financial statement audit filed with a 10-K.
  • Indirect “supply chain” emissions – known as “Scope 3” – are considered the most difficult emissions to measure and quantify. Under the SEC’s proposal, reasonable efforts to report on Scope 3 emissions would receive a “safe harbor” from certain liability under federal securities laws. Also, third-party verification of Scope 3 reporting would be optional. 

The SEC proposal, formally titled “Enhancement and Standardization of Climate-Related Disclosures for Investors,” is considered a key component of the Biden Administration’s efforts to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 52% (below 2005 levels) by 2030. (CBS-AP | Bloomberg Axios, March 21)  

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