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Climate Groups Push Biden to Ensure Financial Appointees Are Committed to Actions That 'Match the Scale of the Crisis'

"The climate crisis is the biggest threat to financial stability, as well as the broader economy. Financial regulators who ignore it are simply failing at their missions."

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks about climate crisis and the wildfires on the West Coast at the Delaware Museum of Natural History on September 14, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks about climate crisis and the wildfires on the West Coast at the Delaware Museum of Natural History on September 14, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

As President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris move forward with their transition to power in spite of President Donald Trump's ongoing refusal to accept the election results, a coalition of green groups is urging the incoming administration to carefully vet financial appointees and ensure they are willing to take the necessary actions to fully address the climate crisis.

"Financial regulators must serve on behalf of the people, the frontline communities, and working people impacted by financial greed and Big Oil's abuses."
—Rebecca Concepcion Apostol, Oil Change U.S.
Launched in January, the Stop the Money Pipeline Coalition (STMP) is made up of over 130 groups working to end financing for climate destruction. While the coalition generally targets big banks, insurance companies, and asset managers, it also weighed in on the presidential contest, with co-coordinator Amy Gray declaring last week that "Trump is trying to steal the election and Wall Street is silent."

Gray, along with co-coordinator Alec Connon, sent a letter to Biden Wednesday congratulating the former vice president on his win and encouraging him to make sure that anyone he appoints to the Treasury Department and financial regulatory agencies like the Federal Reserve and the Securities and Exchange Commission are dedicated to "shifting at full speed into economic principles and practices which completely support renewable energy and fully divest from the fossil fuel industries."

Ginger Cassady, executive director of Rainforest Action Network, a member of the coalition, explained Thursday that the Democratic victory was in part the result of voters' desire for climate action, and "for President-elect Biden to fulfill his climate mandate, his financial appointees' actions must match the scale of the crisis."

"By financing fossil fuels and deforestation, Wall Street banks are among the biggest global drivers of climate chaos," Cassady said. "We urgently need regulators who will ensure banks zero out their climate impact on a 1.5ºC-aligned timeline—anything less would be failing in their responsibility to safeguard the financial system."

The letter includes criteria and questions for potential financial appointees, and tells the next president "it is our sincere hope that you will adopt these criteria as you establish an administration that is able and committed to fulfilling your campaign promises to save our planet."

Questions for possible financial appointees include: "Is climate change a threat to financial stability?" and "Should financial regulation and policy seek to redress the cumulative impact caused by fossil fuels and fossil fuel finance on frontline communities?"

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, another coalition member, emphasized that "the climate crisis is the biggest threat to financial stability, as well as the broader economy. Financial regulators who ignore it are simply failing at their missions."

The groups call on Biden to only appoint people who "demonstrate they understand climate change is an existential crisis and that it is incumbent upon government actors to use the tools available to them in their particular role to address it."

As 350.org executive director May Boeve put it: "Acknowledging climate risk is important, but we're long past the point where that's sufficient to address the climate crisis."

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"The world is burning," she said. "Any financial agency or department appointee to a Biden administration must commit to making climate and the global target of limiting warming to 1.5ºC a core part of their regulatory framework."

Other criteria for appointees include a proven commitment to public interest. The coalition calls on Biden to avoid appointing corporate executives, lobbyists, and consultants, particularly those who have worked for extractive industries—or are likely to do so after leaving government.

"Financial regulators must serve on behalf of the people, the frontline communities, and working people impacted by financial greed and Big Oil's abuses—not the industries they need to aggressively regulate," said Rebecca Concepcion Apostol, program director at Oil Change U.S. "We and the climate movement will be strongly opposing any appointees with ties to Wall Street or the fossil fuel industry."

Throughout the presidential campaign—and especially after choosing Harris as his running mate—Biden won cautious support from progressive climate activist groups as well as scientists and other experts who warned that considering Trump's lengthy record of serving corporate polluters at the expense of public health and the environment, "the 2020 election is literally a matter of life and death."

In the wake of the Biden-Harris victory and amid Democratic Party infighting among progressive and centrist lawmakers, advocacy groups battling for a habitable planet and more just future are working to remind the incoming administration and Democrats on Capitol Hill of the need for bold, transformative policies—such as a legislation introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and backed by STMP, to block banks and international institutions from financing fossil fuels.

When he unveiled the bills last month, Merkley pointed to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's September report that warned that the climate crisis endangers the U.S. financial system. While welcoming that message, STMP's Gray said at the time that the federal government's next step "needs to be clear action to address the crisis."

STMP's message to Biden comes as he is under pressure to serve as a #ClimatePresident and as the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats are encouraging him to create a White House Office of Climate Mobilization and select "fierce" progressives for Cabinet positions. Those groups joined with New Deal Strategies and Data for Progress on Wednesday for a memo warning that "if we abandon our core progressive base and agenda, Democrats will not hold onto the House majority in the 2022 midterms and will have no hope of gaining grounds in the Senate."

The coalition letter also comes after the Fed this week formally acknowledged for the first time that the climate crisis threatens the global financial system and applied to become a member of "the climate change club for central banks." The network requires participation in the Paris deal that Trump ditched and Biden vows to rejoin, and was thus seen by some as a nod to the Democrat's win.

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