The Wrath of Math: Big Oil's Claims Against Transparency Don't Add Up

Issue: Dodd-Frank
Country: United States
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The American Petroleum Institute (API) filed a final court brief yesterday in its protracted fight against U.S. transparency regulations, once again making some truly bizarre claims in the process.

For one, API continues to insist that the disclosure of oil, gas and mining company payments to governments, as required by Section 1504 of the U.S. Dodd-Frank Act, somehow constitutes political speech protected by the First Amendment. API goes so far as to suggest that “the Court should fear the implications of allowing it,” despite the fact that the routine and factual financial disclosures the law addresses are about as political as asserting that two plus two equals four.

Less funny, however, is API’s complete (and perhaps willful) misunderstanding of the transparency intent of the legislation, and the serious development challenges facing many resource-rich countries.

In an attempt to argue that oil companies should be exempt from reporting certain payments, including those made in Angola, Cameroon, China and Qatar, API claims that these countries “can’t be the heart of what Congress intended to address” with Section 1504, in part because Qatar is “among the wealthiest in the world by per capita income.” Of course this statement is likely cold comfort for citizens who find themselves at the losing end of the extreme income inequality found in Qatar – and has nothing to do with transparency.

In fact, just this week the International Budget Partnership (IBP) announced that Qatar received a score of ZERO in its 2012 Open Budget Index, highlighting just how little information on the government’s budget – over 80 percent of which comes from oil- and gas-related revenue – is made publicly available to citizens. As IBP reported, on this transparency measure Qatar scored lower than “all other countries in the region, including Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Yemen.”

In the face of such data it seems that Qatar is actually precisely the sort of country where Section 1504 disclosures are most necessary. Let’s hope the D.C. Circuit Court, which will soon hear oral arguments in the case, understands and respects Congress’s transparency intent.

Rebecca Morse is RWI Advocacy Officer.

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