Senate votes to overturn anti-corruption rule on drilling abroad

A Total petrol station in Lagos, Nigeria. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, File)

A federal regulation designed to block U.S. oil and gas companies from bribing foreign officials for access to lucrative drilling rights is set for repeal after a Senate vote early Friday morning.

The subject of intense litigation, the rule required energy and mineral companies to disclose payments to foreign governments to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It was part of the 2010 Dodd Frank bill, passed in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis to reform the banking and financial industries.

It drew a backlash from groups including the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who sued the SEC, arguing the rule disadvantaged U.S. companies like Exxon Mobil and Chevron who were competing against foreign companies that did not have to play by the same rules.

The Senate voted 52-47 Friday to block the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission from implementing the provision, through the use of a little used law that allows Congress to overturn any executive order issued in the last 60 days – named the Congressional Review Act.

“Passing this CRA will right the ship and put U.S. companies back on a level playing field with their private and foreign competitors; it will also protect them from a dramatic increase in regulatory compliance costs,” Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.,  said in a statement earlier this week.

The legislation has already been passed by the House, and is expected to be signed by President Donald Trump, who has promised to roll back regulations put in place by former president Barack Obama towards growing the American economy.

The Senate vote drew condemnation from Democrats, who argued the provision had been passed with Republican support. Former senator Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, was the co-author of the bill with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.

“It should be lost on no one that in less than 48 hours the Republican-controlled Senate has confirmed the former head of Exxon Mobil [Rex Tillerson] to serve as our Secretary of State, and repealed a key anti-corruption rule that ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute have erroneously fought for years. Big Oil might have won the battle today, but I’m not done fighting the war,” Cardin said in a statement.