A surprise rebellion by a majority of insurance regulators Sunday reversed key elements of a landmark regulation requiring the nation’s largest industry to publicly disclose its efforts to address climate change. Companies can now submit their answers confidentially in most states.
The upheaval rolls back the nation’s maiden climate rule on corporations, casting environmentalists and investor advocates into confusion weeks before the 12-question survey was supposed to be enacted. The change, passed by a vote of 27-22 among state insurance commissioners, promises to make it more difficult for activists to pressure the sprawling industry to act more aggressively on global warming.
It also underscores the depth of concern that commissioners around the country have with a survey that asks about insurers’ actions to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and safeguard billions in investments from climatic impacts, and about efforts to spark activism among their customers.
A survey with public answers could thrust companies into a public relations battle on climate change, said Scott Richardson, the insurance commissioner of South Carolina, who offered a motion at the final meeting of a five-day conference for regulators that led to the change.
“It was becoming a litmus test of whether you’re a green state or not a green state, or a green commissioner or not a green commissioner,” he said. “To me, that was very dangerous. If somebody wants to know whether an individual insurance company has environmental issues that they’re doing, then why don’t you call them up and ask them? You don’t need this survey to do it.”