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Corporate Tax Departments

ESG issues on the horizon for corporate tax departments in 2023

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

Tax issues related to ESG, especially around company activities that may impact the environment, will keep corporate tax departments very busy throughout 2023

The readiness of corporate tax teams to respond to the upcoming regulatory requirements related to environmental, social & governance (ESG) issues, implementation of investment incentivizes in clean and green energy coming from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and cross-jurisdictional tax concerns are three of the most important issues for corporate tax departments in 2023, according to Victor Sturgis, Tax Partner and ESG Tax Services Leader, and Devin Hall, Federal Tax Consulting Services Partner at Crowe.

Whatever the ESG concerns that emerge, both say, they are among an already full plate of work for corporate tax teams in 2023.

Readiness to take on ESG responsibilities

The extent to which corporate tax functions will be prepared to take on upcoming regulatory requirements around ESG will be a key factor in 2023. At the same time, tax leaders don’t seem too worried. The infrastructure upon which most tax teams can lean are the processes and governance already in place to meet current financial disclosure requirements, explains Sturgis. Indeed, corporate tax functions have solid protocols and procedures in place to comply with existing regulations, and they already have experience with calculating how much the company contributes to local economies in which the company operates.

Sturgis offers these essential actions that can help determine if the current process framework is adequate to absorb ESG requirements:

      • Make sure tax leaders are able to articulate how the tax function is reducing risk.
      • Evaluate how the tax function is grasping the company’s current tax liabilities, which includes income tax, payroll tax, personal property tax, and value-added tax. In addition, a detailed understanding of those liabilities from state, local, federal, and international perspectives also is important.
      • Assess the tax compliance process and conduct a gap analysis against best-in-class practices.
      • Review processes to understand how new tax laws are being identified and evaluated.
      • Analyze how adding technology to processes might help reduce that risk.

Evaluation of IRA tax incentive opportunities

The full implementation of the IRA could reduce the domestic greenhouse gas footprint in the U.S. by as much as 40%, given that there is more than $300 billion of climate-related and clean energy investment incentives from solar wind energy storage, hydrogen, carbon sequestration, clean aviation fuel, and charging stations for electric vehicles, says Hall. Because of the expansive incentives related to the IRA, any corporate tax function can be a vital and valuable contributor to a company’s ESG strategy execution around climate and the environment in 2023.

What is interesting about the IRA is its supercharge tax credits, which actually have been on the books for years. In addition, the law also offers extensive opportunities to enhance social initiatives — the “S” in ESG — which include: i) a low-income area provision that allows a company to leverage additional incentives if a company’s energy project is in a low-income community that is below or near the poverty line; and ii) an “energy community” special rule that encourages investment in communities that have historically been negatively impact by fossil fuel industries, while at the same time, are in need of economic revitalization.

ESG-infused cross-border tax regulations

In addition to the issues on the horizon around tax in the U.S., there are tax concerns related to ESG in other jurisdictions. Two notable ones, according to Sturgis and Hall, are the potential for a carbon border tax and IRA-like legislation in other countries. Indeed, they could increase the difficulty of the work by corporate tax teams, if passed.

For example, the implications of the European Union (EU) enacting a carbon border tax could be significant, notes Sturgis. The EU is already taxing carbon, but the carbon-based border tax complicates the incentives to keep the production of goods sourced and manufactured within national borders because these goods would be at a price disadvantage. Also, more jurisdictions passing their own IRA-type legislation to incentivize domestic investments would also have an impact. “A headwind on the IRA legislation in the U.S. is that our friends over in Europe were not too happy about it,” Hall says.

ESG here to stay in 2023

Political and financial headwinds are likely to slow progress around ESG in 2023. Sturgis and Hall point to the divided U.S. Congress and the high cost of capital that are likely to both slow companies’ efforts to take advantage of IRA incentives.

However, both anticipate progress over the long term because of ongoing rulemaking and the staying power of the importance of ESG among the public, investors, employees, consumers, and other stakeholders. As a result, corporate tax teams as well as their outside tax & accounting firms are likely to stay busy in 2023.

“Whenever [ESG] rules come out, they need to be implemented via controls and audited,” Hall states. “As accountants and CPAs, that is where we can help.”

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