Oxfam America presses SEC on drafting disclosure regulations

AP News
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Posted: May 06, 2015 8:51 PM

BOSTON (AP) — The aid group Oxfam America is pressing federal officials to draft regulations aimed at requiring U.S.-listed oil, gas, and mining companies to publish what they pay to governments for access to natural resources in foreign countries.

Lawyers for the charity argued in U.S. District Court in Boston on Wednesday that the Securities and Exchange Commission has unlawfully withheld rules required by Congress in the 2010 Dodd-Frank law. The group said those rules were originally required by 2011.

Oxfam America argued that the SEC has repeatedly delayed its timeline for the regulations.

The group further said the information is critical to shedding light on payments in countries plagued by weak institutions or instability and where those payments can be lost to corruption, waste or mismanagement. The transactions are worth billions of dollars every year, the group added.

"The SEC continues to ignore the deadline set by Congress and has repeatedly pushed back its own timeline, even though it can quickly issue another strong rule that aligns with the global transparency standard," Ian Gary, senior policy manager for Oxfam America, said in a statement.

In a court filing, lawyers for the SEC argue that the agency's response to the rulemaking requirement has been reasonable under the circumstances and that Oxfam's timeframe is unrealistic. The commission said those circumstances include what it calls "unprecedented volume of rulemaking" required by the Dodd Frank Act.

The commission said that it did adopt a rule and defended it against a lawsuit that resulted in the rule being vacated in 2013.

"Although Oxfam attempts to dismiss these facts, they are self-evidently relevant to why the Commission's response to ... (the) rulemaking requirement is not the sort of 'egregious' failure to act that would warrant an order compelling agency action, let alone the unreasonable schedule for proposing and adopting a rule that Oxfam seeks," SEC lawyers argued.

Oxfam America, however, said the SEC's job should be eased by the fact that similar transparency laws are now in place in the European Union, Canada and Norway. The group also argued that the court ruling in 2013 was narrowly focused and the SEC could reissue the same rule with stronger and more complete justifications and finish the process promptly.

"Most of the rulemaking work has already been done," Gary said.

The Dodd-Frank Act is named after its main authors, former Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and retired Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. The law created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to enforce laws aimed at protecting consumers from unfair or illegal practices by banks, mortgage lenders and other financial services providers.

The court could issue a ruling in the lawsuit in the next few months.