Advising on the Future, Today
Institutional investors, such as ERISA plans, registered investment companies, foundations and hedge funds are under increasing pressure to take ESG factors into account in their investment decision-making, proxy voting and shareholder engagement processes. Investment advisers, broker-dealers, family offices, and others are also now addressing ESG risks and opportunities with respect to their own firms in response to greater concern by clients and employees.
Operating companies are also sensitive to ESG. Whether it is pursuing renewable energy projects, managing environmental compliance, evaluating sustainable financing opportunities, shoring up their cybersecurity defenses, or embarking on diversity and inclusion initiatives, ESG is at the forefront for many operating companies across industries.
Stradley is proud to announce the new Environmental, Social & Governance Group, which offers clients a holistic approach to help them navigate this fluid landscape of legal and regulatory developments, stewardship codes, disclosure frameworks and non-governmental organization codes of conduct.
Here is a digital brochure for additional information. The ESG Group also operates this blog that covers timely developments and analysis.
Andrew Levine and Andreas Andrews Discuss Renewable Energy Tax Policy and U.S. Innovation
The full article can be read here.
Webcast Available Now – Stradley Ronon’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee Presents: A Candid Conversation with Hispanic Leaders
Stradley Ronon’s panelists of Hispanic leaders share insights into their career journeys and the challenges they’ve overcome along the way. The group discusses ways to combat discrimination and racism, and how the Hispanic community is currently underrepresented in leadership positions, especially in the legal profession.
Gisele Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s Second Lady
Renee Garcia, Managing Senior Counsel, PNC Bank
Sharon R. Lopez, Civil Rights Attorney, Triquetra Law
Rebecca Rodrigues, Associate, Stradley Ronon
Gabriella Leyhane, Associate, Stradley Ronon
Adriel J. Garcia, Associate, Stradley Ronon
Brian P. Seaman, Counsel and Chief Diversity Officer, Stradley Ronon
NJ Governor Signs Environmental Justice Legislation Placing New Requirements on Facilities Operating in Overburdened Communities
On September 18, 2020, Gov. Phil Murphy signed environmental justice legislation intended to address the disproportionate impacts of pollution on communities by restricting certain industrial operations from entering or expanding in those communities. The law is based on the premise that, and creates a new definition describing, certain communities are “overburdened” because they have historically been impacted, more than other communities within a geographic area, by operations that tend to generate pollution. These “Overburdened Communities” as now defined in the law, share at least one of the following characteristics:
- at least 35% of all households are low-income households;
- at least 40% of residents identify as minority or part of a recognized tribal community; or
- at least 40% of households have limited proficiency with English.
The Department of Environmental Protection is charged with compiling a list of “Overburdened Communities” in the state. However, as described, the definition may be expected to encompass many, if not all, urban areas in the state where residences co-exist with industrial uses, as homes in such areas are typically the least expensive homes in an urban area to rent or own. Often, the housing stock proximate to such facilities was previously known as ‘worker housing’ and in some cases, was constructed by the owners of the industrial facilities and built either at the turn of the 20th century or during the post-World War II manufacturing boom. The current operations which are defined as “Facilities” targeted by the new law are the following: any major source of air pollution, resource recovery facilities, incinerators, sludge processing facilities or combustors, large sewage treatment plants, large transfer stations and solid waste facilities, recycling facilities receiving at least 100 tons of material per day, scrap metal facilities, landfills and some medical waste incinerators.
Under the new law, each of the above-described types of operations will be subject to additional layers of scrutiny whenever an application for a new facility permit, or an application for a major modification of an existing permit, or an application to expand operations is submitted to the Department for approval. The heightened review’s exact extent is not completely clear as the Department is required to promulgate regulations before the new review process commences. Still, there are two specific requirements of that process highlighted in the law. First, no application will be reviewed unless accompanied by an environmental justice impact statement, which does not have a specific definition in the law. That statement must include an assessment of the “potential environmental and public health stressors” that is, all sources of environmental pollution (whether avoidable or unavoidable) which may be expected to arise from the proposed operation, as well as any potential health conditions which the proposed operation may cause in the community. These conditions include asthma, cancer, elevated blood lead levels, cardiovascular disease and developmental problems. It is not known if the Department’s regulations will provide a methodology for determining, on a consistent scientific basis, reproducible evidence of connections between a Facility’s operations and adverse health impacts of nearby residents. The environmental justice impact statement must also contain a description of the environmental and public health stressors already present in the community.
Once the statement is prepared, it will be submitted to the municipality where the Facility is or will be located, and to the Department, who will post it on the Department’s website. The applicant will then hold a public hearing on the application at which the environmental justice impact statement will be presented, and comments will be solicited from the public. Following the hearing, the Department will consider the public’s testimony and determine whether there should be conditions placed on the permit being sought by the applicant in order to “avoid or reduce the adverse environmental or public health stressors affecting the overburdened community.” The law does not describe nor limit the type of conditions that the Department may impose, nor does it appear to limit the Department’s discretion to impose conditions to only address those adverse environmental or public health stressors caused by the Facility at issue.
There are several exceptions from the scope of the new law. Permit applications for remediation activities do not trigger the public hearing requirement and the possibility of additional conditions being imposed, even where minor pollution levels will be allowed to remain in the soil or groundwater. Further, certain provisions of the new law raise significant questions for regulated Facilities. It is not clear if the law’s public disclosures would constitute voluntary disclosures of violations under other state and federal laws. The enforceability of conditions imposed on industrial applicants which are based on the science underlying such a connection may be questionable. Modern science has yet to provide consistent and reproducible evidence of a direct connection between certain conditions and stressors identified in the law and potential health impacts on communities. Likewise, would meeting the conditions imposed by the Department, regardless of scientific foundation, be sufficient to protect the Facility from liability if health impacts are documented in the future? It will be necessary for the Department, charged with administering the law, to provide clarity and reasonableness when bringing the law’s admirable intent into real-world situations.
Brian Seaman Offers Recommendations to Jumpstart Your Organization’s Efforts to Combat Systemic Racism
A Philadelphia chief diversity officer gives recommendations to jumpstart your organization’s efforts to combat systemic racism and to ensure that public statements are the beginning of antiracism efforts and not the end. Read the full article here.
Women in ETFs Ring the Bell for Gender Equality
For the sixth consecutive year, a global collaboration across 80 exchanges (the total would be 100 this year but 20 events have been postponed or cancelled due to the Corona Virus as of March 6, 2020) around the world plan to ring opening or closing bells to celebrate International Women’s Day 2020 (Sunday 8 March 2020). The events – which start on Monday 2 March, and will last for two weeks – are a partnership between IFC, Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) Initiative, UN Global Compact, UN Women, the World Federation of Exchanges and Women in ETFs, to raise awareness about the business case for women’s economic empowerment, and the opportunities for the private sector to advance gender equality and sustainable development. Read the full Newsletter here.