WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to fast-track a final rule requiring oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments, after a human rights group complained the regulator was dragging its feet.
In a Sept. 2 ruling, Judge Denise J. Casper for the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts handed Oxfam America a major victory, and told the SEC it will get 30 days to file an “expedited schedule” with the court for how it plans to finalize the rule.
“The SEC is now more than four years past the deadline set by Congress for the promulgation of the final rule,” Casper wrote in her decision.
“The court concludes...that the SEC’s delay in promulgating the final extractive payments disclosure rule can be considered unlawfully withheld.”
Oxfam has been among one of the most vocal supporters of the resource extraction rule, saying it will play a crucial role in helping combat corruption in resource-rich countries.
Required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, the rule calls for oil, gas and mining companies to disclose how much they pay governments in taxes, royalties and other types of fees for exploration, extraction and other activities.
The SEC did complete work on the rule in August 2012, a few months after Oxfam first sued the SEC over delays.
But the non-stop litigation surrounding the rule did not end after the SEC adopted it.
Trade groups including the Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute filed a lawsuit accusing the SEC of conducting a flawed analysis of the rule’s costs to the industry. In 2013, a federal judge tossed the rule out, saying it was “arbitrary and capricious.”
The SEC did not appeal the decision, and vowed to go back and rewrite the rule from scratch. To date, no new rule has been proposed.
Frustrated with the delays, Oxfam sued the SEC for the second time in September 2014.
An SEC spokeswoman said the agency is reviewing the decision.