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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A major regulator is racing to thwart big banks' refusal to lend and service certain industries and projects — including Arctic oil drilling and new coal mining.

Why it matters: America's biggest banks are increasingly scaling back ties with fossil fuel, prison and gun-manufacturing businesses amid public pressure and changing investment preferences.

Driving the news: The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency — one of three key banking regulators — floated draft rules Friday that say banks can't turn away entire industries. Rather, they have to prove that they decided not to lend because applicants didn’t meet "quantitative, impartial risk-based standards."

  • "Politically controversial but lawful businesses" deserve "fair access to financial services under the law," the proposal says.

Catch up quick: Banks like JPMorgan Chase, Citi and Goldman Sachs have crafted or expanded policies for new coal mines, coal-fired power and Arctic drilling.

  • JPMorgan said last year it would no longer provide banking services to the private prison operators, while the Bank of America said in 2018 that it would stop financing businesses that make military-style guns.

What they're saying: “There is a creeping politicization of the banking industry that has the propensity to be very, very dangerous,” said Brian P. Brooks, acting comptroller of the currency, per Bloomberg.

The other side: "Contrary to the claims of oil-backed politicians, banks don't want to finance more drilling in the Arctic not because of some vast liberal conspiracy, but because it's bad business," Sierra Club's Ben Cushing says.

Reality check: The ruling — if enacted, which is a long shot — likely won't stop banks from shunning certain industries. It would be difficult to enforce.

  • Daniel Stipano, a partner at law firm Buckley and former deputy chief counsel at the OCC, tells Axios a bank "would have to point to something besides a political judgement as the reason for not making the loan."

The big picture: It's the latest effort under the Trump administration to whittle away at investments that factor in industries' societal impact.

  • Earlier this month, the Labor Department finalized a rule that put a high burden on retirement funds that want to include investments that strip out fossil fuel companies and other non-sustainable businesses.

What we're watching: The clock. The OCC's last-ditch effort may ultimately prove meaningless.

  • Attorney James Goodwin of the left-leaning Center for Progressive Reform tells Axios that "short of a miracle, I don’t see how they could get a final rule out before inauguration."

The intrigue: The OCC is taking public comments until Jan. 4, and then would have a fast turnaround to complete the rule before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

  • The Biden administration — by installing its preferred OCC head — could unwind a completed rule, but that's complicated and slow compared to abandoning an incomplete proposal.

Go deeper

Biden rescinds anti-abortion "global gag rule"

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Biden on Thursday rescinded the "global gag rule," a policy that bans international organizations that receive U.S. funding from providing abortion services or offering information about abortion.

Why it matters: The Reagan-era rule, also known as the Mexico City policy, has historically been rescinded or rolled back by Democratic presidents and reinstated by Republican ones. The Trump administration also expanded the rule to include virtually all global health aid.

Texas abortion law remains in effect after appeals court ruling

Pro- and anti-abortion protesters outside the Supreme Court as arguments begin about the Texas abortion law on Capitol Hill in November. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A U.S. appeals court transferred a challenge to Texas' law banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy to the state supreme court in a 2-1 vote on Monday evening.

Why it matters: The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision means the country's most restrictive abortion law can remain in place for the time being.

2 hours ago - World

At least 2 dead after Tonga volcano eruption and tsunami

A satellite image of the explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on Saturday. Photo: UNICEF/NOAA

At least two people are confirmed to have died in Tonga following the undersea volcanic eruption that sent tsunami waves toward the island nation and across the Pacific over the weekend, officials said Monday.

The big picture: Officials reported major damage along the western coast of the main island of Tongatapu, where the capital, Nuku'alofa, was covered in ash and dust, including on the runway of the airport. A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told Axios over the phone that two people had been confirmed to have died in the disaster.