Groups Sue SEC to Access E-Mails On Lobbying Over Climate Change Disclosure

Bloomberg BNA’s Corporate Law & Accountability Report is available on the Corporate Law Resource Center. This news service keeps corporate practitioners informed of legal developments of...

By Yin Wilczek

Feb. 13 — Two nonprofit organizations have sued the Securities and Exchange Commission seeking access to correspondence between agency officials and environmental groups regarding lobbying over climate risk disclosures.

The Energy & Environment Legal Institute and the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic seek e-mails and text messages sent and received by, among others, SEC Chairman Mary Jo White, SEC Commissioner Luis Aguilar and former Chairman Mary Schapiro that contain phrases such as “global warming” and “climate disclosure,” according to their complaint, filed Feb. 12 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and their Dec. 29 Freedom of Information Act request to the SEC.

The groups told the court that the SEC has not turned over the requested materials.

An SEC representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ceres 

In their Dec. 29 FOIA request, the groups said Ceres—an organization that advocates for sustainable environmental practices—has urged the SEC to implement tougher disclosure requirements for climate change.

“The SEC’s current and possible future responses to Ceres are an issue of public concern as is whether the SEC has engaged in communications with outside interest groups regarding changes to the disclosure policies these activists advocate,” the groups said. “The public is also interested in the broader issue of agency `capture' by special pleaders and deserves to review public records which will detail the efforts SEC has taken to respond to Ceres’s activism in the realm of climate change and investor disclosure statements.”

Ceres spokesman Aaron Pickering declined to comment on the lawsuit.

A Ceres report in early 2014 faulted the SEC for not doing enough to enforce its requirement for corporate reporting of climate risk. 

The report charged that the majority of financial reporting on climate change from S&P 500 companies is too brief and largely superficial. It also stated that the commission has paid “minimal attention to climate risk reporting in the last four years” and hasn't made climate disclosure a priority in its process for reviewing companies' reporting.

‘Onerous' Government Actions 

According to its website, the Energy and Environment Legal Institute seeks through litigation to “address and correct onerous federal and state governmental actions that negatively impact energy and the environment.”

The Free Market Environmental Law Clinic says on its website that it works alongside the George Mason University School of Law and other law schools to provide a “counter-weight to the litigious environmental movement that fosters an economically destructive regulatory regime in the United States.”

The two organizations are represented by Christopher Cochran Horner, Keswick, Va.

To contact the reporter on this story: Yin Wilczek in Washington at ywilczek@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ryan Tuck at rtuck@bna.com

The complaint is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/ENERGY__ENVIRONMENT_LEGAL_INSTITUTE_et_al_v_SECURITIES_AND_EXCHAN.

The groups' FOIA request to the SEC is available at http://eelegal.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/EELI-FMELaw-SEC-Ceres-FOIA.pdf.