Public Statements & Remarks

Opening Statement of Commissioner Summer K. Mersinger Before the Energy and Environmental Markets Advisory Committee Meeting

April 10, 2024

Welcome to Kansas City, Missouri. First, I would like to thank our hosts at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. I am also glad that we could have this meeting in conjunction with AgCon, and I want to thank the Chairman for continuing the tradition of holding AgCon here in the Kansas City area. I am looking forward to the conference and I hope that you all can stay for it as well.

Sinclair Lewis, the first American novelist to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, observed that every state has its “historical treasures, small, precious, and mislaid.”[1] The same may be said about this city which boldly calls itself, “Paris on the Plains.” Here in Kansas City, Missouri, the life and art of Thomas Hart Benton is one of those mislaid treasures.

In 1934, Thomas Hart Benton became the first American painter to appear on the cover of Time Magazine as the leading proponent of a new style of painting called American Regionalism.[2] Today, you might not know who Benton was, but if you don’t, you surely know his regionalist colleague Grant Wood and Wood’s famous painting, American Gothic.[3]

In the 1930s, Grant Wood from Iowa, John Steuart Curry from Kansas, and Thomas Hart Benton from Missouri made up what was called the “American Regionalist Triumvirate.”[4] They all studied and lived for periods of time outside the Midwest, but as Wood said in defense of their travels, “I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa.”[5] They fought nationally and internationally for the idea that in an art world dominated by Paris and New York, there was a place for artists who lived, worked, and depicted American subjects like Wood’s pitchfork-holding Iowa farmer and his daughter.[6]

Among our financial regulatory peers, I like to think of the CFTC as taking a similar path. In an industry dominated by large cities and financial concerns, the CFTC was created to protect and give a voice to people who live in places like Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri (not to mention my home State of South Dakota) in major financial hubs and among global regulators.

Like the CFTC, Benton also straddled several different worlds. He was born in the small town of Neosho, Missouri, in 1889, but after his father was elected to Congress, he spent his early years moving back and forth between Missouri and Washington, DC, before being placed in a military academy in anticipation of a future career in politics.[7] After disappointing his family by becoming an artist instead of a politician, Benton studied in Chicago and Paris before achieving his long-desired success in New York.[8]

Then in 1935, he did something truly radical. He left New York for Missouri and returned home to teach at the Kansas City Art Institute where he remained until his death in 1975.[9]

Thomas Hart Benton’s art focused on the everyday people and moments in life across America, a focus we are striving to achieve through the work of this advisory committee as well.

One of our panels will examine the current state of the crude oil derivatives markets.

Painting in the 1920s and 30s, oil was a subject that fascinated Benton. In 1928, he traveled to Borger, Texas, to see the spectacle of a town and industry quickly cropping up around the discovery of crude oil.[10] From that trip came his painting, Boomtown, which in his memoir, An Artist in America, Benton described by saying: “Out on the open plain beyond the town a great thick column of black smoke rose as in a volcanic eruption from the earth to the middle of the sky.”[11]

Today we will also learn about the construction of our electric grid and the costs of large-scale electrification, which will further inform our work on derivatives markets for electric power.

Electric power was also a subject of interest for Benton. In his mural Instruments of Power, which is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he depicts everything from power plants and hydroelectric dams to high tension wires and gas turbines.[12]

Also, after EEMAC’s discussion of the proposed Basel III Endgame at our last meeting, a Committee member requested that we devote a panel to some different views on the implementation of Basel III. To that end, we have a panel that discusses the Endgame, but from a different perspective that is more supportive of the Federal Reserve’s current proposal. As I have said previously, we should not shy away from discussing difficult issues where viewpoints differ. We are all better informed when we understand and appreciate all sides of an issue.

Sadly, few painters have taken the time to depict the intricacies of bank capital standards, and even Thomas Hart Benton shied away from the subject. That said, when his father served in Congress, he was a populist in the tradition of William Jennings Bryan and an ardent opponent of large banks and industrialists, so he may have been sympathetic to our Endgame panelist’s point of view.[13]

In addition, we will receive further progress reports on our subcommittees from Professor Ian Lange, the Chair of EEMAC’s Role of Metals Markets in Transitional Energy Subcommittee and Professor Timothy Fitzgerald, the Chair of EEMAC’s Physical Energy Infrastructure Subcommittee.

Before we get started, I also want to recognize EEMAC’s own triumvirate of dedicated staff – Secretary Lauren Fulks and Assistant Secretaries, Lillian Cardona and JonMarc Buffa – as well as EEMAC Chair, Dena Wiggins and to recognize our newest Associate Member, Annette Hugh from S&P Global Commodity Insights.

Thank you to our members, associate members, and guests for attending today. I look forward to another informative meeting.

[1] Lewis, Sinclair. (1949). The God-Seeker. Random House.

[2] TIME Magazine. 24 Dec. 1934,,16641,19341.

[3] Wood, Grant. American Gothic 1930, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.

[4] Watson, Keri. “Cultivating Citizens: The Regionalist Work of Art in the New Deal Era.” Panorama, Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art. Fall 2019.

[5] Semuels, Alana. “At home in a piece of history.” Los Angeles Times, April 30, 2012.

[6] Letter from Wood, Grant to Sudduth, Nellie. March 21, 1941.

[7] Wolff, Justin. (2012). Thomas Hart Benton: A Life. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Benton, Thomas Hart. Boomtown, 1928. Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, NY.

[11] Benton, Thomas Hart. (1951). An Artist in America. University of Kansas City Press.

[12] Benton, Thomas Hart. Instruments of Power, 1931. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.

[13] Wolff, Justin. (2012). Thomas Hart Benton: A Life. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.