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SEC to require disclosure of climate change risks

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 27, 2010

A politically divided Securities and Exchange Commission voted on Wednesday to make clear when companies must provide information to investors about the business risks associated with climate change.

The commission, in a 3 to 2 vote, decided to require that companies disclose in their public filings the impact of climate change on their businesses -- from new regulations or legislation they may face domestically or abroad to potential changes in economic trends or physical risks to a company.

Chairman Mary L. Schapiro and the two Democrats on the commission supported the new requirements, while the two Republicans vehemently opposed them.

"I can only conclude that the purpose of this release is to place the imprimatur of the commission on the agenda of the social and environmental policy lobby, an agenda that falls outside of our expertise and beyond our fundamental mission of investor protection," Republican commissioner Kathleen L. Casey said.

Democratic commissioner Elisse B. Walter said the new requirements are "designed to improve the quality of disclosures filed by U.S. public companies for the benefit of investors."

Schapiro said companies already must disclose anything that can have a significant effect on their bottom lines. But she said the SEC's action on Wednesday was intended to provide more guidance on what might be taken into account. "The commission is not making any kind of statement regarding the facts as they relate to the topic of climate change or global warming," Schapiro said.

A number of large institutional investors had been urging the SEC to put more pressure on companies to disclose more details about the effects of climate change on their businesses.

Also on Wednesday, the commission finalized new rules for money market funds. These funds, into which big and small investors often deposit cash with the hope of a bigger return than ordinary savings accounts, faced immense stresses at the height of the financial crisis, when it turned out that the funds had invested in far riskier assets than investors had been told.

The commission's new rules limit the types of assets that the funds can purchase and also require that they maintain larger rainy-day reserves.

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