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Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has generally been a pretty sleepy regulator — as evidenced by Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s continued tweets despite a pricy settlement — but new chairman Gary Gensler might change all that.

Driving the news: In the short period since Gensler’s nomination, the SEC has taken an interest in hotly watched areas like cryptocurrencies, blank check companies, private funds and climate change.

  • Specifically, new disclosures regarding the impact on climate change are expected to be at the top of the agency’s priorities, given President Joe Biden’s focus on the issue.

Between the lines: “The indication is that [Chairman Gensler’s] a person that rolls up his sleeves and gets things done,” says Chris Hayes, senior policy counsel at the lobby group Institutional Limited Partners Association.

  • Hayes also noted Gensler was very effective as head of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission.

The big picture: Certain market trends are expected to shape the agency’s work in the near future, per Gensler’s recent testimony to the House Appropriations Committee:

  • Crypto: So far, the SEC has mostly signaled its views via enforcement actions, much to the frustration of the industry. However, Gensler’s genuine interest in the technology, along with the efforts of pro-crypto Commissioner Hester Peirce and the recent elevation of the SEC’s fintech office, suggest that the agency could be ready to deliver more regulatory guidance in this area.
  • IPOs and SPACs: The past year’s boom of special purpose acquisition companies has led to recent scrutiny from the SEC regarding disclosures and the ability to include financial forecasts that are not permitted in the IPO process.
  • Private funds: Gensler notes that the number of private equity and venture capital funds has significantly grown even in the last five years, and the emergence of new approaches and business practices raises regulatory questions around investor protections. Specifically, he points out a recent allowance for private fund managers to waive their fiduciary duties.
  • Fintech: New apps for stock-trading played a central role in recent events like the GameStop saga, prompting the agency to take a closer look at how retail investors interact with them.

Additionally, Commissioner Allison Herren Lee recently proposed that regulators consider private market reform, especially in the areas of investor accreditation and Regulation D, the cornerstone of venture capital and startup fundraising.

What they’re saying: “As our capital markets have grown, though, the SEC has not grown to meet the needs of the 2020s,” Gensler told the House Appropriations Committee.

Yes, but: There’s a difference between a regulatory agency’s ambitions and what it can actually accomplish.

  • It has to follow specific rule-making processes that include the time-consuming tasks of publishing proposals and collecting comments from the public.
  • The agency also has to consider the political risk of bold changes if they have undesired effects such as additional disclosures pushing companies to remain or go private at higher rates, warns Kansas University professor of law Alexander Platt, who focuses on enforcement of securities laws.

What’s next: The SEC’s comment period on climate change impact disclosure ends on June 15, so it may move to make some proposals after that.

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Sep 9, 2021 - Economy & Business

Tom Steyer launches climate tech investment platform

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Jeff Gentner/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Tom Steyer is putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to fighting climate change. And other people's money too.

Driving the news: Steyer, the former presidential candidate and billionaire founder of Farallon Capital, today launched Galvanize, a climate tech investment platform that will back companies from the seed-stage through private equity and project finance.

Updated 60 mins ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Teens and adults missed 37 million vaccinations during COVID — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
  5. Variant tracker