Reps. Tlaib, Cleaver Introduce RESPOND Act With Senator Merkley

March 4, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, United States Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO), along with Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), introduced the Restructuring Environmentally Sound Pensions In Order to Negate Disaster (RESPOND) Act. The legislation would protect federal pensions from the economic consequences of climate change by establishing a Federal Advisory Panel on Climate Change within the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB) and requiring the Federal Reserve and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to issue an annual report on the economic costs related to climate change and federal pensions. 

 

“Federal workers deserve better than being forced to invest their hard-earned savings in corporate polluters that endanger our public health and environment,” said Congresswoman Tlaib. “The $565 billion in retirement benefits under federal management represents a critical opportunity to meaningfully divest from fossil fuels that are killing the planet and harming communities at home and around the world. Our financial institutions should be addressing the costs and risks of climate change, not making it worse. I’m thankful to Rep. Cleaver and Sen. Merkley for their leadership on this and look forward to working together to make this bill law.”

 

“I’m proud to once again join my friend, Rep. Tlaib, along with Senator Merkley, to re-introduce the RESPOND Act—our legislation to proactively protect the pensions of over 5.5 million federal workers, including more than 38,000 in the Fifth District of Missouri, from climate-related catastrophe,” said Congressman Cleaver. “As the world continues to combat climate change, it is increasingly clear that investments in fossil fuels have grown fraught with financial risk. This pivotal legislation would assign financial regulators with the important task of studying the economic effects of a changing climate, so that the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board may determine if federal workers and their retirement accounts would be better served by divesting from the fossil fuel industry.”

  

“Some of the world’s largest and most sophisticated investors are divesting from fossil fuel projects because of the risk that they pose to their bottom lines,” said Merkley. “It’s time for the Thrift Savings Plan to explore whether millions of federal employees would be better off if their retirement funds are in a less risky and more sustainable, socially responsible portfolio.”

 

“Forcing federal employees to invest their savings in the fossil fuel industry threatens both the future of our planet and the bottom line for these workers saving for retirement,” said Kelly Martin, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign. “We applaud Representatives Cleaver and Tlaib for their leadership in recognizing the serious financial risks associated with the climate crisis and protecting workers from those risks.”

 

“It is high time that the Federal Reserve and the Securities and Exchange Commission properly account for the real cost of climate change on our economy,” said Natalie Mebane, U.S. Policy Director of 350.org. “Climate change has always been the biggest economic threat to this country and our world. It is time to follow the science and know that we cannot have a healthy economy without a healthy climate.”

 

“Climate change presents numerous near and long-term risks to financial systems worldwide and, in turn, pension holding and public sector portfolios. The RESPOND Act—respond—by illuminating risks that would remain invisible without special inquiry, thereby taking another step toward protecting the underlying value of investments on which so many hard-working people depend,” said Paula DiPerna, Special Advisor, Carbon Disclosure Project.”

 

“The RESPOND Act will address important issues for federal pension plans and allow financial regulators to address climate risks and climate opportunities. We congratulate Congressman Cleaver and the other sponsors for moving this vital legislation forward,” said Steven M. Rothstein, Managing Director, Ceres Accelerator for Sustainable Capital Markets.

 

Original Cosponsors of the RESPOND Act include: Reps. Cori Bush (D-MO), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Mike Levin (D-CA), and Ro Khanna (D-CA).

  

The FRTIB currently oversees $565 billion in retirement benefits for over 5.5 million federal employees. The RESPOND ACT would take steps to protect these retirement benefits by:

  • Commissioning the FRTIB to establish a “Federal Advisory Panel on Climate Change” to conduct a thorough examination of the financial risks posed by climate change to federal employee retirement benefits and report those findings to Congress.
  • Instructing the FRTIB to immediately set a plan in place to divest from corporate polluters if the FRTIB determines that pension yields would be both financially profitable and consistent with fiduciary duties if divestment strategies were implemented.
  • Implementing a “Climate-Choice” investment option to allow federal pension holders to opt into an investment plan that is completely divested from fossil fuels if the FRTIB is unable to make a conclusive determination on whether divestment strategies align with their fiduciary responsibilities to pensioners.
  • Requiring the Federal Reserve and SEC to jointly issue annual reports on the financial risks of climate change to ensure the federal government is doing its due diligence to fully understand and account for these risks and costs in future projections.

  

The RESPOND Act is endorsed by Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, Ceres, 350.org, Climate Hawks Vote, Climate Health Now, Catholic Network US, Earth Guardians, Center for International Environment Environmental Law, TIAA-Divest from Climate Destruction, Mother Out Front, Fossil Free California, Businesses for a Livable Climate, GreenFaith, Divest New Jersey Coalition, Stand.Earth, Global Choices, New York Green Education and Legal Fund, Call to Action Colorado, 350 Colorado, 350 Silicon Valley, 350 Seattle, 350 Ventura County, 350 Humboldt, 350 PDX, Giniw Collective, Rapid Shift Network, Colorado Businesses for a Livable Climate, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Zero Hour, Citizens Climate Lobby of Kansas City, and the Climate Council of Greater Kansas City.

 

You can find the official text of the RESPOND Act here.