Mounting pressure on oil industry to stop fighting transparency

By Oxfam

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Washington, DC—In an increasingly high-profile fight, more than 24,000 people have joined Oxfam America to tell the oil industry to stop fighting the “Cardin-Lugar” provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, which requires oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments to host governments.  Their support coincides with high-profile pressure on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), tasked with implementing the law, from Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Bill Gates and prominent lawmakers.

While the law would help stem corruption in resource rich countries, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and its oil company members, such as Chevron, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, are fighting implementation of the provision by the SEC, even threatening to sue the regulatory agency, unless it withdraws its proposal and starts from scratch.

“The SEC has a strong mandate from Congress to follow the letter of the law and should not cave into those who don’t want to.” said Ian Gary, senior policy manager of Oxfam America’s oil, gas and mining program. “We are heartened to see so many people standing up to big oil, demanding companies open their books and stop hiding secret payments to local governments.”

Powerful political figures are also weighing in. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton expressed her strong support last week for the provision during a Senate hearing, saying the SEC should “go as far as possible” to implement the law. “I hope the regulations expected from the SEC reflect the clear intent of the law,” she said. “I think our own government…should be as forward-leaning as possible in giving full weight to what the intent was behind the legislation.”

Many prominent legislators and appropriators, including Senators John Kerry, Charles Schumer, Ben Cardin, Leahy and Rep. Barney Frank are also ramping up pressure. The Senators submitted a letter to the SEC on January 31st followed by a similar letter by fourteen senior members of the House of Representatives on Feb. 14, urging the SEC to “resist” pressure from oil companies and “promptly” release a strong effective final rule.

“We urge the SEC and oil industry to pay close attention to the House and Senate letters and issue a strong final rule quickly,” said Gary. “We’re watching and ready to fight back if the SEC issues weak final rules.” 

Though transparency supporters will deliver the online petitions to the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhilips today, citizens will still be able to join Oxfam America’s e-action campaign.

“It’s great to see this issue resonating so well with the public. This was our most popular action in the last year,” said Gary. ”The SEC and oil industry should pay close attention to the growing momentum for strong final rules and the ‘votes for transparency’ our petition received.”

Major voices in the financial press have also weighed in the last two weeks. London’s Financial Times said in an editorial on Feb. 27 that “oil companies are wrong to resist publication of payments” and that “lobbying efforts aimed at overturning this progress should not be allowed to succeed.” The Economist in its Feb. 25 edition said that if oil companies go to court to block the SEC final rule it could “become a public relations disaster.”

Oxfam America kicked off its campaign a month ago in Washington, DC in front of the SEC, where activists depicted the oil and gas industry and the SEC in bed together. The activists then headed to Houston, Texas where they gathered in front of the Chevron Building downtown to demonstrate the yawning gap between the transparency rhetoric of the industry and the reality of their actions, which has never been more apparent until now.

To coincide with these activities, Oxfam America and a number of organizations supported a six-figure advertising campaign calling on the oil industry to stop fighting transparency. The ads ran online in the Washington Post, Politico, Huffington Post and The Hill and in print in the Wall Street Journal.