Cryptocurrency developers and U.S. lawmakers are moving toward putting the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in charge of regulating digital currencies, said CFTC Commissioner Summer Mersinger.
The designation would expand the CFTC’s mandate to oversee agricultural, energy and financial options markets and pave the way for the agency to regulate other digital assets such as non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.
Separately, the CFTC is considering how carbon trading markets operate, with a view toward their use in hedging and risk management. Mersinger, one of five commissioners on the independent board that oversees commodity and financial futures markets, was speaking on Tuesday on the sidelines of the Reuters Commodities Trading USA conference in Houston.
Major crypto companies have backed the CFTC and on Tuesday U.S. senators Cynthia Lummis, Republican of Wyoming, and Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, filed a bill that would make CFTC the industry’s main overseer.
“You’re seeing the industry coalesce around the CFTC becoming the primary regulator,” said Mersinger.
Lawmakers have not decided which agency would oversee cryptocurrencies but the proposed Lummis-Gillibrand bill offers a starting point for Congressional debate.
The CFTC has begun its own review of a potential role over cryptocurrencies, with staff looking for opportunities in areas such as spot-market crypto trading “where we could have some expanded role making,” Mersinger said. She cautioned that the agency historically has not regulated spot markets and its reviews are preliminary.
“We’re still a strong regulator but our registrants have a lot of flexibility,” she said. “They have been very interested in that approach versus the top-down way of some other financial regulators,” she said.
Carbon trading is another area where the CFTC has an interest. Its regulation now is largely policed by industry groups and voluntary on the part of participants. “We have interest in that space but we don’t regulate that space,” Mersinger said. One consideration is what changes may be needed for the voluntary markets to work properly, she added.
In 2020, when U.S. oil futures prices turned negative for the first time on fears of a lack of physical storage amid collapsing demand, CFTC issued an advisory warning of the risks that not enough people took seriously, she said. One lesson it learned was that there was a need for broader inter-agency collaboration and discussion of contract settlement terms with the exchanges and traders, she said. “At the end of the day, storage wasn’t as big an issue” as feared, but it was not well communicated, she said.