Faced with the threat of a lawsuit if they issue effective rules to implement a new law requiring oil, gas and mining companies disclose their payments to governments, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was hit today with a hilarious yet appropriate stunt by our friends from Oxfam America. The intended purpose of this pre-Valentine’s Day action was to draw attention both to industry’s high pressure tactics, and to remind the SEC that they are not clients of big business, but government agents tasked with drafting rules to implement laws passed by Congress.
More actions are planned in the near future, beginning next Thursday at Chevron’s Houston offices. Oxfam America, Global Witness and other human-rights and anti-poverty organizations also are planning to place ads in several news publications next week, including the print edition of The Wall Street Journal and web editions of the Hill, the Washington Post, Politico and the Huffington Post.
Ian Gary, Oxfam’s Senior Policy Manager with their oil, gas and mining program discussed the purpose of the morning’s action: “Our campaign aims to send a strong message that we’re watching, and ready to fight back if the regulatory agency issues weak final rules.” The truth is that only rules that adhere to the law—meaning project-by-project disclosures with no exemptions—will produce information that will allow civil society and investors to evaluate secretive deals between extractive companies and governments, and ensure that people in resource-rich countries benefit from energy development.
The oil industry, led by their lobby, the American Petroleum Institute (API), has made wild claims that they will lose hundreds of millions of dollars and be forced to break foreign laws if the SEC rules do not grant them exemptions that would, in reality, totally gut the new law. Their claims are simply untrue, overstated, and unsupported.
ERI and the other members of the Publish What You Pay US coalition have filed Comments with the SEC to reinforce the importance of strong rules, including one Comment submitted this week by ERI that exposes the wild claims of industry for what they are, clever scare tactics intended to pressure the SEC into issuing weak, ineffective rules. Last week, several Senators sent a letter to the SEC urging them to follow the intent of the law, and issue strong rules without delay. Investors have also weighed in favor of strong rules.
Oil, gas, and mining companies love to claim that they support international transparency initiatives like the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), but, as discussed in a great blog post earlier this week, their support evaporates when the time comes for them to actually disclose what they are paying. We know we can’t count on the oil industry to do the right thing, unless the right also allows them to maximize profits. But, we do expect and demand more from our government, and we’ll be watching the SEC very closely to make sure they are not swayed by the scare tactics of API and their oily friends.
If you want to help out, please sign Oxfam’s petition calling out the oil companies for protecting secrecy, and another petition from the ONE Campaign calling on the SEC to resist pressure from the oil industry.