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ASTM E2173-22

Standard Guide for Disclosure of Environmental Liabilities

Standard Guide for Disclosure of Environmental Liabilities E2173-22 ASTM|E2173-22|en-US Standard Guide for Disclosure of Environmental Liabilities Standard new BOS Vol. 11.05 Committee E50
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Significance and Use

4.1 Significance—This guide provides additional guidance to preparers of environmental disclosures; these materials are needed to address changing audience needs, the increased regulatory and accounting complexity around environmental matters, and the emergence of a variety of long-term trends and factors, including but not limited to:

4.1.1 Number and scope of domestic, and foreign environmental laws and their implementing regulations;

4.1.2 Number and scope of treaties, as well as the implementing laws and regulations; parties in these treaties include multilateral organizations and indigenous peoples;

4.1.3 Judicial decisions clarifying the impact of laws, regulations, and treaties;

4.1.4 Costs of compliance with environmental regulations;

4.1.5 Number of known chemical compounds (see Chemical Abstracts Service REGISTRYSM, which contains over 193 million unique organic and inorganic substances);

4.1.6 Cost and accuracy of soil, sediment, air, soil vapor, surface water and groundwater testing equipment and procedures;

4.1.7 Knowledge about benefits and effects of chemical compounds on human health, ecological receptors, and the environment;

4.1.8 Number and efficacy of remedial technologies;

4.1.9 Experience with assessing and remediating environmental conditions;

4.1.10 Assumptions regarding impacts of environmental conditions, through modeling and other forecasting tools;

4.1.11 Number of environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics and their pace of adoption;

4.1.12 Frequency and financial impact of counterparty failure; and

4.1.13 Development of comparable accounting standards by other authorities; and

4.1.14 Investor interest in the impact of these trends and factors on their investments.

4.2 Uses—This guide is intended for use on a voluntary basis by a reporting entity that provides financial and qualitative disclosure regarding environmental liabilities. Disclosure is integrated with preceding elements of financial statements, namely recognition, measurement, and presentation of environmental liabilities, as noted in Fig. 1. (Full explanation of this framework can be found in FASB Concepts Statement 8, September 2010.) With the long-term trends and factors in 4.1, the issuers of environmental disclosures have found it useful to regularly report material environmental topics to the public through filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Form 10-K or 20-F.

Note 1: Many of these trends and factors, as well as the changes to GAAP, have occurred gradually. For example, users of this guide will likely be aware that chemicals that were not regulated or considered contamination yesterday may be deemed so tomorrow.

4.2.1 Typical environmental disclosures to the public include, but are not limited to:

FIG. 1 FASB Conceptual Framework

 Conceptual Framework Conceptual Framework Book value of current environmental liabilities, such as asset retirement obligations, pollution remediation obligations, and natural resource damage claims; Book value of product liability costs (for example, recalls) and other litigation related to human health and the environment; Counts of projects or legal matters, especially over time, which provide a metric to track if the rate of liability settlements align with or vary from the rate of incoming liabilities; Indirect costs such as project and legal services to oversee liabilities, and guarantees on the long-term performance of counterparties; Costs and income associated with contracts and commitments, such as purchase and sale agreements, insurance contracts, and merger transactions; Voluntary costs to comply with environmental laws, regulations and treaties; Contingencies and non-financial metrics related to the above items; and Note to financial statements confirming that a booked environmental liability conforms to the accounting definition of a liability, namely that a loss has been incurred which will result in future spending that is both probable and reasonably estimable. See E3123 for further detail.

4.2.2 The degree and type of disclosure depends on the scope and objective of the financial statements. Such statements may not always be audited or prepared for the public domain.

4.2.3 For example, users of this guide may need to make non-public disclosures for the benefit of investors, prospective asset purchasers, lenders, regulators, insurers, tax authorities, key customers, and joint venture partners.

4.2.4 Users of this guide should be aware that shareholder concerns, contractual obligations, financial assurance requirements, court decisions, and regulatory directives may affect their flexibility in the use of this guide.

4.2.5 Some larger entities may publish their environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics to communicate company policies, progress in meeting emission goals, sustainability of individual products and services, and the impact of subsidies and taxes. The user should note that ESG metrics are not a part of generally-accepted accounting principles. ESG metrics may lack comparability (see Fig. 1 above) from industry to industry, and sometimes company to company. While these ESG metrics constitute a form of environmental disclosure, they are excluded from this Guide. These metrics are published by several organizations, including the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board. See Guide E2718 for further information.

4.3 Principles: The following principles are an integral part of this Guide and are intended to be referred to in resolving ambiguities or disputes regarding the interpretation of disclosures regarding environmental liabilities.

4.3.1 Faithful representation—to be useful to the decisions of those receiving environmental disclosures, the information provided must be reliable and trusted. Users of this Guide should note the “Enhancing Qualitative Characteristics” in Fig. 1:

(a) disclosures should be comparable with similar disclosures from competing or peer entities; the use of non-standard measurements or terminology should be avoided

(b) disclosures should be verifiable through cost accounting and auditing specialists

(c) disclosures should consist of timely information, reflecting an entity’s quarterly financial reporting to its officers

(d) disclosures should be understandable through using the common reporting terminology in GAAP; for example, an entity should not describe asset retirement obligations (ASC 410-20 and GASB 83) with entity-specific project labels.

4.3.2 Continuous Improvement—just as environmental liabilities generally accrue across time and with strategic transactions, any entity should disclose gradual improvements in addressing environmental matters as the scope and scale of issues evolve. A newly-formed entity may find no reason to disclose hypothetical losses or describe risks which have not occurred; however, an entity with 100 years of operations may find it essential to disclose an historical review of brands, facilities and waste disposal practices.

4.3.3 Transparency—entities will find it useful to supplement financial disclosures with performance metrics, including but not limited to: Number of properties awaiting reuse and/or sale because of environmental contamination concerns, including those with AULs (see Guide E2091) Number of sites successfully completing regulator-directed remediation; portion of the liability portfolio in either early or final stages of regulator-directed remediation Relevance of emerging contaminants to current and historical production Relevance of climate adaptation expenses to future operations Relevance of pending court cases Limitations to reliably calculating current liabilities Comprehensive impact of long-term trends of booked liabilities – generally available by combining a decade or more of historical disclosures – to avoid the impression of “remediation theater” where environmental reserves are booked and expended roughly equally without any sense of progress or achievement in addressing contamination.

4.3.4 Uncertainty Not Eliminated—Although a reporting entity, as of the time when its financial statements are prepared, may hold a certain position with regard to the existence and extent of its environmental liabilities, there remains uncertainty with regard to the final resolution of factual, technological, regulatory, legislative, and judicial matters, which could affect its valuation of environmental liabilities. Under the constraints of preparation cost and materiality (noted in Fig. 1), users needing reliable information may experience additional limitations, such as unaudited cost projections, draft scientific findings, or the bounds of attorney-client privilege. Users may encounter decisions identified as uncertainties and observe liabilities priced solely through the costs to implement potential remedial strategies; information on cognitive biases in valuing environmental costs and liabilities may be found in Guide E2137.

4.3.5 Disclosure Dependent on Circumstances—Not every environmental liability warrants the same level of detail in its disclosure. Disclosure will be guided by the scope and objective of the financial statement, and accordingly, by the materiality of the environmental liability and the level of information available.

4.3.6 Comparison with Subsequent Disclosures—Subsequent disclosures that convey different information regarding the extent or magnitude of the reporting entity's exposures should not be construed as indicating the initial disclosures were inappropriate or incorrect. Disclosures shall be evaluated on the reasonableness of judgments and inquiries made at the time and under the circumstances in which they were made. Subsequent disclosures should not be considered valid standards to judge the appropriateness of any prior disclosure based on hindsight, new information, use of developing analytical techniques, or other factors. However, information on trends may be of value to a user of financial statements.

4.3.7 Not Exhaustive—Appropriate disclosure does not necessarily mean an exhaustive disclosure; discretion and professional judgment are used by estimators, auditors, and the reporting entity's management in setting limits on the preparation cost, materiality, and volume of information worth disclosing as environmental liabilities.

Note 2: For each entity, there is a tradeoff between displaying detailed information and identifying reliable and accurate insights that are useful to user decisions.

4.3.8 Assessment of Risk—As the reporting entity becomes aware of an environmental liability, the condition or issue should be evaluated to assess the actual or potential risk to human health and environment and resources. The degree of risk is evaluated in context of the current regulatory environment, an understanding of the specifics of the condition or issue, potential future uses, and asset retirement obligations.

4.3.9 Improved Capital Stewardship—Disclosure, along with the preceding steps of recognition, measurement, and presentation, provides context for environmental liabilities and may improve the defensible allocation of capital to resolving those liabilities as efficiently as possible. Over time, an entity may find it valuable or even essential to demonstrate leadership in cost efficiency for understanding, controlling, preventing, and reducing environmental liabilities. The need for intermittent internal presentations may transform into the need for regular public disclosures as an entity acquires environmentally impaired assets or other environmental liabilities. An entity may prefer to make the ongoing investment in competent and continuous data collection and interpretation to draw internal managerial attention toward measuring and ensuring progress in discharging the liabilities as efficiently as possible.


1.1 Purpose—The purpose of this guide is to provide a series of options or instructions consistent with good commercial and customary practice in the United States for environmental liability disclosures accompanying audited and unaudited financial statements. This guide is consistent with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)2 issued by Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), as well as related statements, rules, regulations, and/or procedures issued by Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB), Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB). This guide is intended to be consistent with national and multinational issuers of accounting standards and practices, including International Accounting Standards Board (IASB).

1.2 Objectives—The objectives of this guide are to:

1.2.1 Identify the common terminology used in environmental disclosures,

1.2.2 Explain the need for environmental disclosures,

1.2.3 Define the conditions warranting disclosure, and

1.2.4 Illustrate the report formats and content typically used in environmental disclosures.

1.3 History of development of this guide—In 1993-1994, a group of insurance companies approached ASTM to request a best practice environmental cost estimation and disclosure standard, as they were experiencing high environmental remediation and asbestos claims from policyholders that were reporting no material liabilities in their annual reports. At the same time, asbestos and environmental liabilities were triggering bankruptcy more frequently, again with little prior disclosure by companies other than boilerplate legal language that costs were too uncertain or not estimable, or that such costs would not be material. Research by the ASTM standard working committee at the time found such shortcomings as (a) rarely attempting to identify a full portfolio of potential liabilities, (b) dividing liabilities into separate sites or claims to avoid aggregated material outcomes that would require disclosure, and (c) relying on “known minimum costs” or “no estimate” to forecast liabilities. This disclosure standard (E2173), initially developed over a seven-year period with its first approval in 2001, was created to cure these shortcomings by providing guidance for best practice disclosure, including aggregation of liabilities before conducting a materiality test, as well as disclosure of the major assumptions and evaluations underlying the disclosure. The companion referenced cost estimation standard (E2137, which was split into a separate standard due to its broader applicability beyond disclosure purposes) provided guidance on a hierarchy of cost estimation methodologies that explicitly address uncertainty and recommend alternative methodologies. Both E2137 and E2173 have been revised over time to reference and incorporate applicable elements of new accounting standards and regulations, consider applicable case law, and incorporate new best-practice examples and years of additional experience with cost estimation and disclosure.

1.4 This international standard was developed in accordance with internationally recognized principles on standardization established in the Decision on Principles for the Development of International Standards, Guides and Recommendations issued by the World Trade Organization Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Committee.

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Book of Standards Volume: 11.05
Developed by Subcommittee: E50.05
Pages: 18
DOI: 10.1520/E2173-22
ICS Code: 13.020.10