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New Report Warns Agency Capture Threatens OCC Climate Response

WASHINGTON -

Today, the Revolving Door Project released a report on the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s (OCC) capacity to implement and enforce climate regulation. This is the third installment of the project’s ongoing Climate Finance Capacity project, which identifies the tools each component of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) has to address the climate crisis through regulatory reform, and the capacity-related obstacles that could stand in the way. Prior installments have looked at the Commodities Future Trading Commission (CFTC) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Through this project, we aim to highlight the responsibilities each of these agencies have in regulating our financial system towards a more sustainable future, and the reforms necessary to achieve this vision as examined through the lens of each agency’s unique resourcing.

The OCC, which is the primary federal regulator for nationally chartered banks, has immense climate-related responsibilities, as well as many regulatory tools already at its disposal to address them. The OCC is integral to the fight towards a more sustainable financial system in part because many of the banks under the agency’s purview are themselves the world’s largest climate chaos financiers. Among other options, the OCC has the ability to curtail reckless short-term climate profiteering through its reevaluation, redefinition, and ultimate enforcement of new standards of climate-aware risk and capital requirements that integrate the real cost of climate change into banks’ balance sheets. By accurately defining climate change as a systemic risk to the financial system, the OCC could also threaten to revoke the charters of banks unwilling to reconsider their financial entrenchment in climate devastation. 

Tools and policy changes such as these are supported by the OCC’s relatively unusual status amongst the financial regulators as a body whose funding has long been considered fairly robust and stable — though even it has faced self-imposed cuts in recent years. This relative stability, of course, positively reflects on the OCC’s capacity for implementing necessary climate reforms, but the regulator also has a long history of being a “captured” agency. Industry capture undermines the agency’s strength and independence as a regulatory body, and itself presents obstacles to the implementation and enforcement of climate-facing policies. In order for the OCC to be a fully effective partner in the fight against climate change, it must acknowledge and work to mitigate its substantial vulnerability to industry capture through internal reforms such as those advocated by the OCC’s own Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The OCC has taken some necessary steps to be a partner of the public interest in the responsible regulation of climate change, but it has not done all that it can do, and it must.

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The Revolving Door Project (RDP), a project of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), scrutinizes executive branch appointees to ensure they use their office to serve the broad public interest, rather than to entrench corporate power or seek personal advancement.

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