Is there a relation between the cost of debt and environmental performance? An empirical investigation of the U.S. Pulp and Paper Industry, 1994-2005.
Schneider, Thomas Ervin
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This study shows an economically significant relation between a firm’s environmental performance and its cost of debt. Firms that have poor environmental performance will face future environmental liabilities related to compliance and clean-up costs due to increasingly strict environmental laws and regulations. Under current U.S. law, environmental liabilities can impair the value of fixed assets, as environmental claims often take precedence over the claims of creditors. Thus, future environmental liabilities are of particular concern to creditors. Previous accounting research has shown that a firm’s market value of equity is significantly affected by its environmental performance. However, the same has yet to be shown for a firm’s cost of debt capital. This study focuses on a sample of U.S. pulp and paper firms. The results imply that the market applies an ‘environmental risk’ premium of thirty-eight basis points to the cost of debt capital for the average public firm in the U.S. pulp and paper industry, based on its environmental performance. Environmental performance is measured using the annual toxic release inventory of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. It is a measure of the amount of toxic chemicals released to land, air and water by a firm’s operating facilities. This paper adds to the literature, providing evidence that environmental performance is a value relevant measure with regards to creditors. Thus, recent calls in the United States for greater cooperation between the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency should be addressed. These calls are for the reporting, on a firm-wide basis, of quantifiable data that is already required by the Environmental Protection Agency but is not typically available in detail in firms’ reports to investors.