Allison Herren Lee will step down as a commissioner at the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The announcement comes exactly one year after Lee — as acting chair — declared that climate change disclosures would be a priority for the agency. In doing so, Lee, who was appointed to fill a Democratic seat on the commission by President Donald Trump in 2019, paved the way for her successor, Gary Gensler, who took over in April. The commission will hold a vote on proposed environmental disclosure rules next week.
Lee, 63, drew political fire for setting goals while in an interim leadership role, but she was praised by some colleagues for the decisive approach.
“As acting chair she brought swift focus to important investor issues, such as climate-related disclosures,” Gensler said. “I have been fortunate to rely on Allison’s expertise.”
She “put the market on notice” about environmental disclosures, said Robert Jackson, a former SEC commissioner. Last year, Lee invited public comment on these disclosures long before any proposals were on the table, allowing industry players to air their concerns and issues in advance. That public debate positioned the agency “to develop a thoughtful rule in this critical area,” Jackson said. She “set the standard by which all future acting chairs of financial agencies will be judged,” he said.
Early experience in the energy industry has informed her work.
“I began working in the oil business while in college to help pay for my business degree in mineral management,” Lee said. “My first professional job was as what we then called a ‘landman,’” negotiating with landowners to acquire leases for energy exploration.
Lee later went to law school on a full scholarship, became a law firm partner and later joined the SEC’s enforcement division.
“In retrospect, that time as a woman in the oil business in the late ’70s and early ’80s was something of a professional crucible,” she said. “Back then, I didn’t even know how I would get through law school, much less expect to occupy this role and be on the cusp of voting on climate change disclosures.”
It might be a long goodbye for her at the SEC. The Biden administration has struggled to seat some nominees, so Lee’s notice may not bring swift change. She will remain after her term ends in June if a replacement isn’t confirmed, although she is eager to begin a visiting professorship in Italy that she delayed to become a commissioner.
Her departure would leave two slots open on the agency’s five-member board, including one recently vacated by Elad Roisman, a Republican. No more than three commissioners can belong to the same political party.