Oil, gas and mining law strongly defended by Oxfam in court

By lrusu

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WASHINGTON, DC – Lawyers for international relief and development organization Oxfam America strongly defended a landmark oil, gas and mining transparency law today in arguments before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia today. In an effort to overturn the law, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and US Chamber of Commerce have sued the US government after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted to approve final regulations last August.

Known as Section 1504 or the “Cardin-Lugar” provision of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, the law requires oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments to governments in countries where they do business. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed the industry lawsuit in April on jurisdictional grounds – an argument only Oxfam America, an intervenor in the case, made to the court. Now the case is moving forward in the US District Court.

“Transparency supporters, investors and citizens in resource-rich countries celebrated a victory when the court dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds,” said Ian Gary, senior policy manager of Oxfam America’s oil, gas and mining program. “The facts are on our side and we intend to win again after the lower court hears the hollowness of industry arguments.”

In briefs to the court, Oxfam argued that API’s claims are without merit and that the SEC, the defendant, approved a final rule that follows the law and the Congressional intent. Regarding oil industry claims that the statute violates the Frist Amendment, Oxfam argued that API has failed “to identify any injury to their First Amendment rights” and that oil companies have “no constitutional right to keep payments to foreign governments secret.”

“This provision requires purely factual disclosure – discrete payment information that is no different from other business information the SEC requires companies to disclose,” said Jonathan Kaufman, staff attorney at EarthRights International and co-counsel representing Oxfam America as intervenor in the lawsuit. “If the court agrees with the plaintiffs’ First Amendment challenge, it could undermine the countless reporting statutes and regulations that require disclosure of information on corporate activities to investors and the public.”

“Mandatory disclosures of oil, gas and mining payments to governments are now a global fact and industry giants such as Exxon, Chevron, BP and Shell need to drop their misguided support for this litigation,” said Gary. “Now that the European Union has agreed on similar payment disclosure rules, the industry should give up its fight and withdraw their support for the lawsuit.”

No mining company has joined the lawsuit and the National Mining Association has refused to participate in the litigation. Large mining companies such as Newmont and Rio Tinto have stated that the disclosures required by Dodd Frank are complementary to voluntary initiatives. Statoil, the Norwegian oil giant operating in places such as Angola, is a prominent API member and has explicitly withheld support for the litigation in the United States.

The European Parliament is scheduled to vote on June 12 to approve the political agreement reached at the European Union level in April to match the Dodd Frank requirements. Transparency in the extractive industries is a major plank of the UK government’s G8 summit scheduled for June 17-18. The first Dodd-Frank disclosures will be released in June 2014.