OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Oil transparency battle, Solyndra report going public Friday

The demo calling for tough final rules is organized by Oxfam America, which is part of a coalition called Publish What You Pay.

The Wall Street reform law enacted in 2010 requires SEC-listed oil, gas and mining companies to reveal payments to governments related to projects in their countries, such as money for production licenses, taxes, royalties and other aspects of energy and mineral projects.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Dodd-Frank provision is aimed at increasing transparency to help undo the “resource curse,” in which some countries Africa and elsewhere are plagued by high levels of corruption, conflict and poverty despite their energy and mineral wealth.

The rules required under the Dodd-Frank law will mandate disclosure to the SEC of payments to foreign governments (and the United States).

Greater disclosure, advocates argue, will help ensure that revenues from energy development and mining provide public benefit. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) authored the provision, Section 1504, in the Dodd-Frank law.

Oxfam and other anti-poverty and human-rights groups hope to put public pressure on the SEC to complete rules that were first proposed in draft form in late 2010.

But oil companies say the rules could hurt their competitive standing and create major new costs. The industry, in a stream of letters and meetings with the SEC, is pushing the regulators for certain exemptions to the rules as well as leeway to limit public disclosure in a manner that activists say would gut the measure.

Most recently, the American Petroleum Institute (API) urged the SEC to pull back and re-propose the rule, claiming that the rule as currently proposed “would not survive judicial review.”

Ian Gary of Oxfam America told E2 that the January letter from API, the industry’s most powerful trade group, helped push the activists to stage Friday’s demonstration and launch the campaign.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back was the explicit legal threat,” said Gary, a senior policy manager with Oxfam America. “It was really that clear and present danger that encouraged us to take a more public stand.” The API letter and other comments from energy companies and activists to the SEC are available here.

Oxfam is also sponsoring ads in a number of outlets including The Washington Post and The Hill  (and a print ad in The Wall Street Journal) starting next week that target oil companies for resisting the SEC rules.

An array of groups such as Global Witness, the Revenue Watch Institute and others are endorsing the ad campaign.

But a number of big companies such as Exxon warn that the rules will hinder them when competing for projects against state-owned or state-controlled companies that would not be captured by the mandates, such as Russia’s Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Company.

Click here and here for more on what the oil industry is seeking from the SEC.

Oil companies stress that they, too, support transparency, and the industry points to its work with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which is a voluntary international effort among governments, activists and the industry to increase sunlight in energy development.

But advocates of robust SEC rules say the provision in the Dodd-Frank law is meant to complement EITI and capture more information.

“EITI is a minimum reporting standard, and the intent of Sec. 1504 was to go beyond these requirements,” Cardin wrote to the SEC in late 2010.

Cardin and four Senate Democratic colleagues wrote to the SEC Jan. 31 urging the commissioners to “resist pressure” to weaken the rules.

NEWS BITES:

Republicans again threaten contempt charges over Solyndra

House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans threatened to pursue contempt charges against the White House if officials do not provide addition Solyndra documents by Feb. 21.

“Frankly, our patience is at an end,” Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and other Republicans on the panel said in a letter to the White House’s top lawyers Thursday.

“We simply will not allow the White House to endlessly delay its response to duly authorized subpoenas.”

The letter continues: “Without your complete compliance with the subpoenas by February 21, you will compel us to pursue all options available to the Committee under its rules and the rules of the United States House of Representatives to address such obstructive behavior.  We are fully prepared to do so.”

Rep. Cliff Stearns (Fla.), the Republican heading up the committee's Solyndra probe, has been mulling contempt charges for weeks.

In addition, the Republican lawmakers also threatened to subpoena three White House Office of Management and Budget officials and two White House officials if they do not voluntarily conduct interviews with committee staff. The letter gives the White House until Feb. 17 to agree to the meetings.

They include: Kevin Carroll, energy branch chief at OMB; Kelly Colyar, branch chief at OMB; Fouad Saad, program examiner at OMB; Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change; and Aditya Kumar, deputy assistant to the vice president and senior adviser to then White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

The White House turned over 313 pages of internal emails last week in response to committee Republicans’ November subpoena for all internal communications related to the Solyndra loan guarantee.

The emails added to the 200 pages of documents the White House previously provided the panel in response to the subpoena, as well as more than 1,000 pages sent before the subpoena was issued.

Federal agencies, including the Energy Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget, have separately sent the committee more than 180,000 pages of documents.

But committee Republicans insist that the White House is trying to “stonewall” their months-long Solyndra investigation. They say they are still unable to answer a series of key questions.

The lawmakers sent the White House a document prioritizing which documents are most essential to their investigation as well as a memorandum detailing the White House’s “repeated delays” in complying with the subpoena.

Energy loan review expected Friday

The White House is expected to release a review of the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program Friday.

The much-anticipated review comes as House Republicans are pummeling the administration for greenlighting a $535 million loan guarantee in 2009 to the solar firm Solyndra, which declared bankruptcy in September.

The report won’t focus on Solyndra specifically. Instead it will look broadly at the loan program. The program, which was first authorized in a 2005 energy law and expanded under the 2009 stimulus act, is aimed at boosting energy projects that might not otherwise be able to secure private financing.

Herb Allison, a former Treasury Department official who oversaw the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), conducted the review and delivered his report to the White House late last month.

TransCanada claims vindication in State Dept. IG report

TransCanada Corp. is cheering the new State Department inspector general report that concluded the department’s review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline was not marred by conflicts of interest or bias.

“When claims made by opponents of Keystone XL were brought forward, we welcomed an independent review by the Inspector General’s office so that they could be addressed,” said TransCanada Corp. CEO Russ Girling in a statement.

“At TransCanada, we conduct ourselves in an open, honest, transparent and ethical fashion, and this independent investigation confirms we followed all of the procedures and practices established by the Department of State and other federal agencies,” he said.

The Obama administration in January rejected the company’s permit for the proposed Alberta-to-Texas pipeline but the company plans to reapply. See “In Case You Missed It” below for much more of E2’s coverage of the report.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...

Here's a quick roundup of Thursday's E2 stories:

— Keystone backers, foes find new ammo in report on State Dept. review process
— Rep. King: Pelosi's 'Stasi troops' force use of efficient light bulbs
— Regulators approve construction of first nuclear reactors in more than 30 years
— State Dept. IG: Keystone review wasn't biased
— Bingaman: Use payroll-tax cut bill to extend green energy credits

Please send tips and comments to Ben Geman, ben.geman@thehill.com, and Andrew Restuccia, arestuccia@thehill.com.

Follow us on Twitter: @E2Wire, @AndrewRestuccia, @Ben_Geman