By Jeanna Smialek
Top Federal Reserve officials downplayed the chance that they would use their power as bank overseers to actively discourage investment in carbon-heavy companies, setting out a boundary line in an evolving conversation about what role the central bank should play in dealing with the fallout from global warming.
“We would note that it has long been the policy of the Federal Reserve to not dictate to banks what lawful industries they can and cannot serve, as those business decisions should be made solely by each institution,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed’s chair, and Randal K. Quarles, the vice chairman for supervision, wrote in a letter this month.
Their comments came in response to a letter sent by Representative Andy Barr, Republican of Kentucky, and several of his colleagues that raised concerns about the central bank’s recent attention to climate change.
Mr. Powell and Mr. Quarles said the Fed makes sure the institutions it oversees are well-prepared to handle risks they face, including climate-related risks. But they indicated that they were not rolling out climate stress tests or using their supervisory powers to pressure banks to meet climate-related goals — big concerns among Republicans.
“We have seen banks make politically motivated and public relations-focused decisions to limit credit availability to these industries,” the lawmakers said in their letter, specifically referencing coal, oil and gas. “It is possible that the introduction of climate change stress tests could perpetuate this trend, allowing regulated banks to cite negative impacts on their supervisory tests as an excuse to defund or divest from these crucial industries.”
The Fed said its research into climate financial risks was in the “early stages,” and noted that directly addressing climate change was not one of its congressional mandates. America’s central bank is behind its peers when in coming up with a framework for dealing with climate risks.
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