Jan 14, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Biden's latest Fed pick signals brewing climate battles

Illustration of stone bank columns as smoke stacks

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden's plan to tap Sarah Bloom Raskin as top banking regulator at the Federal Reserve could intensify the central bank's already growing focus on climate change.

Catch up fast: The news broke Thursday night that Biden will nominate Raskin, a Duke University law professor, for the powerful role of vice chair for supervision.

She was a Fed governor from 2010 to 2014 before joining the Treasury Department during the Obama administration.

Why it matters: Raskin has been outspoken on the need for financial regulators to prevent climate change from becoming a systemic risk to the banking system.

And she has also backed a climate role for financial regulators that goes beyond analysis and planning efforts.

  • In September she wrote an op-ed saying financial regulatory agencies should be helping firms to anticipate and address climate risks, but also play an active role in spurring emissions cuts.
  • "[Regulators] need to ask themselves how their existing instruments can be used to incentivize a rapid, orderly, and just transition away from high-emission and biodiversity-destroying investments," she wrote for Project Syndicate.
  • Raskin participates in the "Regenerative Crisis Committee," a panel of financial and legal experts aimed at "Identifying fiscal, monetary, and financial regulatory policies that are likely to enable the United States to achieve net carbon neutrality before 2050."

The intrigue: It's too soon to know what kind of specific policies Raskin might seek if she moves from the private sector to become the Fed's top Wall Street cop and whether she could win support on a consensus-based Fed board for them.

  • Some environmental groups have proposed ideas like "portfolio limits" on the level of polluting assets, such as oil and gas companies, banks can invest in. They also say the Fed should increase the capital banks must hold for their fossil portfolios.

What we're watching: Capitol Hill. Sen. Pat Toomey, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, has "serious concerns" about Raskin, arguing she has taken stances that could weaken economic growth, Bloomberg reported.

If all Republicans opposed her, she would need the votes of every Democrat, including Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whose state is a major coal and gas producer. His spokesperson did not provide comment.

Senate appearances this week by nominees for top Federal Reserve jobs gave new hints at their climate plans and showed the scale of GOP resistance to the Fed's work on the topic.

  • On Thursday, Lael Brainard, the nominee for vice chair, appeared before the Senate Banking Committee. Fed chair Jerome Powell, who President Biden has tapped for a second term, testified Tuesday.

Powell and Brainard didn't signal support for new fossil lending restrictions, even as they pledged deeper climate analysis.

  • "We would not tell banks which sectors to lend to or which sectors to not lend to, but we do want to make sure that they are measuring, monitoring and managing their material risks," Brainard said.
  • Both Powell and Brainard discussed plans to gauge financial system risks and conduct "scenario analysis" of large banks' resilience.

The other side: Many Republicans attacked the Fed's growing climate efforts, which they consider mission creep.

  • Committee ranking member Toomey fears analysis of banks' exposure to climate risks is a precursor to unnecessary new restrictions.
  • "The whole purpose is to test whether banks are prepared to address perceived risks associated with climate change, and then if the Fed determines they are not, to promulgate new regulatory requirements," he said yesterday.

Andrew Freedman contributed reporting.

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