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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

This week brought a new and maybe decisive turn in a high-stakes fight over how much oil and mining companies should reveal about payments to foreign governments.

Driving the news: The Securities and Exchange Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday to finalize disclosure rules required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law. But the panel's Democrats and human rights groups called it too weak.

Why it matters: The Dodd-Frank provision aims to create transparency to battle the "resource curse."

  • That's the poverty, conflict, and government corruption in some resource-rich nations in Africa and elsewhere.
  • The idea is to reveal payments for contracts, royalties and so forth to help ensure residents share the benefits from resource extraction.
  • The oil lobby says it favors disclosure but argues that granular mandates are burdensome and hobble SEC-regulated firms when competing for contracts.

Catch up fast: The SEC first issued rules in 2012. But industry groups sued and a federal judge nixed the regulation.

  • The SEC completed a rewrite in 2016. But in 2017 Republicans passed legislation to kill the rule and President Trump signed it.
  • Now it's tricky because the law they used, called the Congressional Review Act, bars agencies from re-issuing rules that closely mirror an overturned one.

What's new: Yesterday's version makes the required public disclosures much less specific than prior versions.

It defines "project" in a much less detailed way and enables companies to report payments at national and broad regional levels. The rule also contains multiple exemptions.

What they're saying: "We appreciate the Commission’s...effort to balance transparency with the overall mission to protect investors, competition and the efficiency of capital markets," said Stephen Comstock of the American Petroleum Institute.

Yes, but: Advocacy groups blasted it. "Oil companies and corrupt kleptocrats should no longer be able to exploit U.S. financial secrecy, and investors should have the information they really need to make informed investment decisions," said Ian Gary of the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency Coalition.

What's next: Several groups said the incoming Biden administration, which will appoint a Democratic SEC chair, should revisit and strengthen the rule. And Gary said it's "vulnerable to litigation," though called that only "one possible option."

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 27, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden to sign major climate orders, setting up clash with oil industry

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden will sign new executive actions today that provide the clearest signs yet of his climate plans — elevating the issue to a national security priority and kicking off an intense battle with the oil industry.

Driving the news: One move will freeze issuance of new oil-and-gas leases on public lands and waters "to the extent possible," per a White House summary.

Robinhood has a stacked policy team — and it's going to need it

Photo Illustration: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The stock-trading app Robinhood has an arsenal of political power brokers it can deploy on its behalf as it faces congressional inquiries over its role in an internet-fueled market manipulation frenzy.

Why it matters: The populist, discount trading platform is going to need that firepower because its decision to suspend trading of stock in GameStop and a number of other companies on Thursday has sparked criticism and promised inquiries from both sides of the aisle.

Ina Fried, author of Login
1 hour ago - Technology

Intel CEO sees making own chips as a matter of national security

Pat Gelsinger. Photo: Axios on HBO

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger is putting the pressure on the U.S. government to help subsidize chip manufacturing, insisting the current reliance on plants in Taiwan and Korea as "geopolitically unstable."

Why it matters: There is bipartisan support for funding the domestic semiconductor industry, but Congress has yet to sign the check. The Senate has passed the CHIPS Act that includes $52 billion in semiconductor investment, but it has yet to pass the House.