Politics of Poverty

Oil transparency now!

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Pressure building on the SEC and Big Oil

Publish What you Pay US Director Isabel Munilla and Oxfam America staff deliver petitions to the American Petroleum Institute. Photo by Jessica Forres/Oxfam America.
Publish What you Pay US Director Isabel Munilla and Oxfam America staff deliver petitions to the American Petroleum Institute. Photo by Jessica Forres/Oxfam America.

Almost a month ago, Oxfam America and allies in the Publish What You Pay US coalition took the gloves off in our campaign to stop Big Oil from succeeding in a behind-the-scenes push to gut the landmark oil and mining payment transparency provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.

Who knows how this fight will ultimately end, but we are making real progress. Since the start of this campaign spike, we’ve had dozens of media hits and turned this from a secret struggle at the SEC into a very public fight about oil company secrecy. And we’ve had fun along the way—Our fabulous “oil companies in bed with the SEC stunt” was quickly followed frisky group of “see no evil” monkeys in an oil barrel outside the Chevron tower in Houston—a stunt that was covered in the Houston Chronicle and the San Francisco Chronicle.

We’ve had high-profile figures weigh in as well, from Bill Gates to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In her remarks at a Senate hearing last week—watch a video of her remarks here—Clinton said the SEC should “go as far as possible” in implementing the final rule. “We know that there are challenges in doing this. I hope the regulations expected from the SEC reflect the clear intent of the law, namely to require all relevant companies operating in this sector to disclose the payments they make to foreign governments. I think everybody is benefited from the disinfectant of sunshine and the spotlight to hold institutions accountable.”

Fourteen senior Members of Congress led by Rep. Frank—including eight appropriators who will certainly have the ear of SEC Chairman Schapiro as she goes to Capitol Hill to fight for her agency’s budget—wrote to the SEC on Feb. 15 to say that they are aware of efforts by industry to press the SEC to release a “watered down rule that does not reflect the statutory language” and urged Chairman Schapiro “to resist this pressure and promptly release a strong and effective final rule.” Schapiro told appropriators this week that the rule will be finished “shortly”, but she’s made promises before and the SEC is almost a year beyond the Congressional deadline to implement this provision.

Oxfam’s supporters have also really come through—more than 24,000 have signed a petition to the oil industry and we delivered those petitions today to the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s lobbying arm. (Our ally Revenue Watch Institute also pitched in to add some signatures to the pile.) The ONE campaign has delivered more than 100,000 signatures to the SEC calling on them to quickly issue a strong rule.

Finally, we are getting elite business media opinion on our side. In a great editorial, the Financial Times said that “oil companies are wrong to resist publication of payments” and that lobbying efforts aimed at overturning progress in the US and Europe “should not be allowed to succeed”. The Economist ran an article at the end of February saying that if oil companies go to court to block the SEC final rule it could “become a public-relations disaster”. Indeed.

If oil companies thought they could hide behind the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), they may want to think again. Oil companies have long held that EITI—which only requires company disclosure when a country faithfully implements the initiative—is the only way to go and that mandatory regulations would destroy EITI. Clare Short, board chair of EITI, has a different view—mandatory regulations and EITI are perfectly complementary.

It’s clear that both the oil companies and the SEC are feeling the heat. We need to keep piling on the pressure so we can make it over the finish line with a strong regulation.

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