Sarah Bloom Raskin Faces Senate Questions Over Climate Views

Sarah Bloom Raskin Faces Senate Questions Over Climate Views


Sarah Bloom Raskin,

President Biden’s pick to become the government’s most influential bank regulator, could face a contentious hearing on Thursday when she testifies before Senate lawmakers, a key hurdle for confirmation.

Ms. Raskin, who was formally nominated last month by the Biden administration to serve as the Federal Reserve’s vice chairwoman for supervision, will likely face questions on her calls for regulators to speed up the transition from fossil fuels and her support for tougher banking rules.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week urged Senate lawmakers to scrutinize Ms. Raskin’s views on climate and other matters, while 41 oil-and-gas trade groups pressed lawmakers to oppose her, citing her climate stances. “She is a strong advocate for debanking the very industry that powers America,” the energy groups said in a Jan. 28 letter.

In prepared testimony released by the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday, Ms. Raskin said that her role at the Fed would entail working closely with other central bank officials and banks to identify, analyze and manage their risks. “The role does not involve directing banks to make loans only to specific sectors, or to avoid making loans to particular sectors,” she said.

Ms. Raskin hasn’t encountered opposition from banks that helped torpedo the nomination of Saule Omarova, an academic Mr. Biden tapped last year for a separate post overseeing national banks. That fight was led by community banks, which have a more favorable view of Ms. Raskin from her former stints in government. The American Bankers Association and the Financial Services Forum, which represents the largest U.S. lenders, issued statements congratulating her on her nomination.

“She’s outstanding and she understands the role of the Fed governors,” Cam Fine, the former head of the Independent Community Bankers of America, a trade group, said last month. “She’s a tough regulator, don’t get me wrong, but she’s very fair.”

Ms. Raskin is set to appear before the Senate Banking Committee along with two economists tapped for other Fed board seats: Lisa Cook, a professor of economics and international relations at Michigan State University, and

Philip Jefferson,

a professor and administrator at Davidson College in North Carolina.

All three nominees said in their prepared remarks that the Fed must make it a top priority to tackle high inflation. They didn’t comment on Fed officials’ signals that they would begin steadily raising interest rates in mid-March to combat price pressures.

“The spike in inflation we are seeing today threatens to heighten expectations of future inflation,” Mr. Jefferson said. “The Federal Reserve must remain attentive to this risk and ensure that inflation declines to levels consistent with its goals.”

Mr. Biden has also nominated Fed Chairman

Jerome Powell

for a second term and Fed governor

Lael Brainard

to become Fed vice chairwoman. If all five of Mr. Biden’s nominees win Senate confirmation, they would hold most of the seats on the seven-member Fed board.

With a closely divided Senate, Mr. Biden needs either the support of all Democrats to confirm his nominees, or support from some Republicans to overcome holdouts from his own party.

Moderate Democrats on the Senate Banking panel who may hold the key to Ms. Raskin’s confirmation have yet to say whether they will support her. Montana Sen. Jon Tester said Tuesday that he “had a nice meeting with her, and I’ll see how the hearing goes.” He said Ms. Raskin’s nomination had raised “no red flags as of yet.”

Ms. Raskin previously served as a Fed governor and as a top Treasury Department official during the Obama administration. Before that, she served as Maryland’s state commissioner of financial regulation. She currently is a law professor at Duke University and is married to

Rep. Jamie Raskin

(D., Md.).

Money is a sticking point in climate-change negotiations around the world. As economists warn that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will cost many more trillions than anticipated, WSJ looks at how the funds could be spent, and who would pay. Illustration: Preston Jessee/WSJ

As a central bank observer in recent years, Ms. Raskin has been particularly outspoken about how the Fed should tackle climate-related financial risks, which include calls to use financial regulation to address threats posed by climate change. Those positions have been cheered by progressive Democrats but criticized by Republicans.

“There is opportunity in pre-emptive, early and bold actions by federal economic policy makers looking to avoid catastrophe,” Ms. Raskin wrote in the foreword of a 2020 report from the Ceres Accelerator for Sustainable Capital Markets, a climate advocacy group.

Critics say Ms. Raskin’s calls for regulators to motivate a more rapid transition away from loans to high-emission industries go beyond the scope of the Fed’s authority, since the central bank lacks a mandate to fight climate change and there is political division on the issue in the U.S.

Ms. Raskin would fill a post vacated by

Randal Quarles,

a pick of former Republican President

Donald Trump

who supported including climate as one among many risks bank supervisors might consider, but in an interview described Ms. Raskin’s prior statements as extreme.

“Accelerating the transition is just not the Fed’s job, it’s not their political mandate, it’s not supported by the data around the actual risks of climate change to the financial system, and it’s just way too controversial,” Mr. Quarles said. “It would be damaging to the institution in the United States at this moment.”

White House spokesman Michael Gwin said Ms. Raskin would bring unprecedented experience to the job and had won the support of economic experts across the political spectrum.

An administration official said Ms. Raskin is opposed to the Fed allocating credit by sector or choking off sectors from access to credit. While Ms. Raskin believes the pacing to address and adjust to climate change is important, it is not set by the Fed but rather by Congress and market forces, the official also said. The Fed doesn’t have a role in the pacing of that transition, and Ms. Raskin doesn’t seek to create one, the official added.

Supporters say Ms. Raskin has the prescience to spot and respond to emerging financial risks, such as when she spearheaded a push to fight cyberattacks targeting banks and other financial institutions during the Obama administration.

She led a push to declassify and share information to better arm firms with information such as on a spate of Iranian “denial of service” attacks. She also pushed firms to more freely share cyber information with one another, said Kathleen Hamm, who served as a counselor to Ms. Raskin at the Treasury Department. Much of that work involved wrangling independent U.S. regulators and then working with overseas counterparts, culminating with a 2016 agreement among the G-7 finance ministers.

Former Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who worked with Ms. Raskin at the Treasury Department, praised her ability to collaborate with other policy makers.

“Coordinating in that world is always a challenge, especially on a technical issue like this,” said Mr. Lew, referring to cyber issues. “The ability to deal with complicated issues in a collaborative way through complex structures, that’s very relevant to the Fed.”

Write to Andrew Ackerman at [email protected]

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

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