On February 11, 2022, the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL) announced publication of a Request for Information (RFI) seeking public comment on what actions, if any, the department should take under federal law to protect retirement savings and pensions from risks associated with changes in climate.
The RFI follows President Biden’s Executive Order on Climate-Related Financial Risk which directs the department to identify actions it can take under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act of 1986, and other relevant laws, to safeguard the life savings and pensions of U.S. workers and families from the threats of climate-related financial risk. Together, ERISA and FERSA provide oversight to more than $13 trillion in assets.
Importantly, the letter addresses the importance of applying ESG fiduciary standards for plans investing in private markets:
“[A]ny standards that DOL creates for considering climate-related systemic risks should apply to pension plan investments in private markets. Considering the lack of transparency surrounding private fund investments, it is difficult for investors to assess how their investment with any particular fund might contribute to the climate crisis and ultimately prove a risky investment for workers’ retirement savings.
Given the potential climate-related risks that the opaque private equity industry poses to investors, ESG considerations, particularly those related to climate change, are important for any prudent plan to consider as part of its fiduciary duty when investing in private funds.”
The Private Equity Stakeholder Project (PESP) joined Americans for Financial Reform and others in addressing the DoL’s requests through a May 16, 2022 comment letter. The coalition strongly encouraged the DoL to:
- Strengthen and finalize its ESG fiduciary duty rule on an expeditious timeline;
- Set minimum standards for consideration of climate change, racial and economic inequality, and other systemic risks by ERISA fiduciaries as well as fiduciaries of retirement plans under the Federal Employees’ Retirement System Act of 1986 (FERSA);
- Use Form 5500 Annual Return/Report (“Form 5500”) or a new systemic risk reporting form to collect data on climate-related financial risk to large pension plans;
- Require ERISA and FERSA money managers to explicitly integrate ESG considerations into their proxy voting policies and procedures;
- Include climate change and racial and economic inequality in its risk-based audit program of the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) to identify risks and vulnerabilities and assess the likelihood and magnitude of harm from these risks; and
- Direct the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB) to conduct a rigorous audit of the TSP’s exposure to climate-related financial risk, set science-based emissions targets, and offer climate-friendly investment strategies to participants.
If you have any questions about the DoL’s RFI or the coalition’s comment letter, please contact PESP Policy Coordinator, Chris Noble, at firstname.lastname@example.org.