By Franz Matzner, Natural Resources Defense Council
Republicans in Congress and President Trump have made it easier for oil, gas, and coal companies to bribe foreign governments without accountability. Together, they killed a recently finalized Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule that would have required natural resource extraction corporations to report any payments to foreign governments.
It is important to recognize that this provision originated in the Dodd-Frank Act. It was put forward by a bipartisan set of Senators, including the security hawk, foreign policy leader, and human rights supporter, then-Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN). The provision does not limit or curtail fossil fuel production; it simply requires common-sense disclosure of financial support of foreign governments—an important aspect of maintaining national security protocols.
When the oil industry and its henchmen assault safeguards, they roll out standard talking points about saving jobs or improving America’s energy independence. But none of that applies here. This just is a case of abandoning transparency and corporate accountability at the behest of the fossil fuel industry.
Simply put, the repeal of the SEC rule is an attack on global good governance and a breakdown of good governance here in the United States. Even as the Congressional Review Act resolution repealing the measure was under consideration, Senator Lugar lamented to Politico, “It would be a real tragedy for democracy and human rights [if the SEC rule were repealed]….It’s hard to believe this would be such a high priority right now.”
And on the Senate floor, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) recounted how the dictatorial leader of Equatorial Guinea directed the deposit of hundreds of millions of petrodollars meant for his people straight from Exxon’s bank account to his own. Stories like these—tragic tales of corruption and abuse—are exactly what the SEC rule was intended to prevent.
Since the repeal offers no identifiable benefit to the American citizen, the only logical way to explain how it came to be the first policy bill signed into law by Donald Trump is that Big Oil wanted it. And they told the GOP to jump.
That the Republican Leadership prioritized this assault at the behest of Big Oil may not be a surprise. But it should be a clear signal to the public that Republican leaders, Trump, and his Fossil Fuel Cabinet are putting polluters above taxpayers, public health, and transparent foreign policy.
Indeed, Politico reported earlier this month that ExxonMobil’s former CEO, now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, took the unusual step of traveling to Washington to personally lobby the Republican co-sponsor of the provision during deliberations over the 2010 Dodd-Frank bill. According to Politico, “He also explained that the provision would make it especially difficult for Exxon to do business in Russia, where, as he did not need to explain, the government takes a rather active interest in the oil industry.”
This should be alarming to all Americans—not just those concerned about the environmental costs of continued expansion of fossil fuel extraction. Tillerson’s confirmation raised questions of whether he would act in the interest of the American people, or continue to put Exxon—and even Russia—first. The President and Republican Congress do not intend to do so, if their repeal of this common sense SEC rule is any indication of where they are heading.