Tag Archives: green

Oxfam says lack of SEC rule contributing to oil-fueled corruption

WASHINGTON–A bureaucratic delay in carrying out a rule requiring U.S.-listed companies to disclose payments to foreign governments for getting access to oil, gas and minerals has contributed to corruption in those countries and harm to investors at home, says a report by nonprofit Oxfam America.

At issue is the implementation of a key section of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which is approaching its fifth anniversary next week.

“That is five years of payments for oil projects without adequate transparency and citizen oversight. Five years of corruption and poverty in oil-rich countries. Five years with investors not having access to this critical data,” the report says.

The provision requires oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments to the Securities and Exchange Commission for things such as taxes, permits and licenses needed for development overseas.

Oil production in developing countries including Angola, Nigeria, Indonesia, Sierra Leone is estimated to have generated approximately $1.55 trillion for such governments in the five years since Dodd-Frank Act was enacted, and much of it has flowed to governments with limited or no transparency, according to the report by Oxfam America, the U.S. branch of the international charity working to find solutions to poverty around the world.

The federal rule would also have “serious impact on investors and their bottom line,” said Isabel Munilla, Oxfam America’s senior policy advisor.

“Oil, gas and mineral development has destabilized a lot of countries,” Munilla said in a phone interview. Despite generating a lot of money, the development often leads to conflicts in local communities, where many remain poor despite the windfall, she added.

“And when communities protest to stop a mining or oil drilling project, the company can loose millions of dollars in a day,” Munilla said.

The report also indicates that American Petroleum Institute and 10 of its members have spent over $360 million on lobbying and political contributions in the U.S. between 2010 and 2014. Most notably among their efforts, was an oil industry lawsuit led by the API that resulted in the overturn of a “strong final rule” issued by the SEC in 2012.

The U.S law, when implemented, will “shine a light on payments made by more than 1,100 companies”, many of which constitute the world’s largest oil, gas and mining businesses, including Chinese and Brazilian state-owned companies, says the report.

In a March filing the SEC has indicated that it may not issue the new rule until spring of next year.

Oxfam has asked the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts to compel the SEC to finish the rule by the close of 2015. The court’s decision is still pending but “should come out any day from now,” said Munilla.

“With payments for oil and mining projects out in the open, citizens can demand their governments spend these funds in the communities where drilling is taking place – using it to fight extreme poverty and build roads, schools, and hospitals,” said Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.

Facing aggressive lobbying and legal challenges by trade groups like the API and oil industry giants like Shell and Chevron, the SEC has already delayed its rule making “at least seven times,” Munilla said.

An SEC spokeswoman declined to comment on the report or the rule-making process.

The Dodd-Frank provision has inspired 30 countries to adopt similar laws and regulations requiring payment transparency of oil, gas and mining companies, the report says. As a result, U.S.-listed companies including Shell and BP, even though not yet required by the SEC to disclose payments, will soon have to do so as these companies are also covered by the European and Canadian regulations.

Not all companies in the oil, gas and mining industry oppose the disclosure rule. Oil companies including Statoil and Kosmos Energy have already begun disclosing their payment information. Statoil, an API member, has publicly distanced itself from the lawsuit against the SEC, the report says.

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In the middle of the Mojave, Marines make millions off bullet casings and bomb fragments

  • Piles of bullet casings sorted for recycling at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center’s Qualitative Recycling Program Range Sustainment branch. (Amina Ismail/MEDILL NSJI)
    Piles of bullet casings sorted for recycling at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center’s Qualitative Recycling Program Range Sustainment branch. (Amina Ismail/MEDILL NSJI)

TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — On a stretch of California desert the size of Rhode Island at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, thousands of Marines train for combat each year. And the casings, shells and bomb fragments fired in these exercises are making the Marine Corps millions of dollars each year.

“You have tank parts, you have 120 tank rounds that are made up of aluminum, you have 40-mm rounds. Everything that’s made out of aluminum is sitting back there in that pile,” said Jay Jones, work leader for the seven-person team at the Qualitative Recycling Program’s Range Sustainment branch. “Believe it or not, an airplane crashed out here one year, and it stayed out there. Once the investigation was over, we went out and got it brought back. Someone’s probably driving around a car in it now.”

The Qualified Recycling Program started in 2000 and collected over 5.6 million pounds of range residue last year. The recycling program manages trash and household recyclables as well as exploded munitions and hazardous materials from across the base. Items are collected, sorted, processed and recycled or sold to government-approved contractors for profit, saving the base removal costs.

Range Sustainment

Heaping piles of shells and casings lay sorted in material-specific containers at the Range Sustainment branch, which processes some 900,000 pounds of spent munitions from across the base each year.

“Everything that’s been shot at, shot up, blown up, that’s what we recycle in here,” Jones said. “The Marines themselves bring it in, plus we have contractors that go in and they bring in the bigger pieces of gear. The blown up tanks, the airplane.”

Every unit that trains at the base’s live fire ranges must return expended ammo to the Range Sustainment branch. Staff members sort them into piles by raw material and conduct quality assurance checks for live ordinances

Norman Troy, an explosives ordinance specialist who supervises the Range Sustainment branch, said he identifies each spent munition by sight based on its fusing system and does not consider his job a risk to his life.

“We make sure nothing is live,” Troy said. “It’s once in a very blue moon does something unexploded come in that’s dangerous. And if it does come in, then we call the explosives ordinance disposal, and they come down. And they’ll hopefully go blow it up somewhere.”

Hazardous Materials

The hazardous materials branch acts as the Qualified Recycling Program’s innovative hub. Branch staff process and recycle hazardous materials from across the base, including oil, grease, paint and anti-freeze. According to Patrick Mills, program manager for hazardous materials, the major cost-saving components are the recycling of anti-freeze and the reconditioning of batteries.

Every piece of military rolling stock uses batteries worth $300 to $500, Texas company PulseTech donated machines that recondition the batteries by using an ultrasonic technology that breaks up phosphates that cocoon the lead plates within the batteries. These machines cost $5,000 a piece, but using them saves the Marine Corps up to $1.5 million dollars a year.

Projects like this have caught the eye of think tanks that work with Mills and his team to maximize their technologies.

“DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is one of the many different think tanks,” said Mills. “They find technology, they try to do a cross application to a [Department of Defense] use, for example, and then they would find guys like us who like to step out on the edge of that limb. And that’s what I do.”

Maximizing technology is a key driver of innovation for the branch, which reduced the amount of hazardous waste shipped off-site in 2014 by 192 tons compared with the previous year.

“We are going through a fiscal tsunami right now,” Mills said. “We just fought two long sustained wars. Not one, but two. And we’re still fighting other different neo-intensive operations. There’s ISIS.”

“The think tank, basically they’re trying to get us out of a stone age into new cutting-edge technology. The battery’s one example,” Mills added.

Profit Management

An environmental award submission to the secretary of Defense cited a variety of issues the base faces, including budget reductions, increased environmental requirements, greater public scrutiny and pressure to privatize commercial-like functions. But despite these pressures, the base’s recycling business is thriving.

Last year, the Qualified Recycling Program amassed $2.5 million in profit. Half of this amount went toward labor, maintenance and upgrade costs for the recycling program, and half went to the base’s Marine Welfare Program.


The recycling program staffers aren’t the only ones who see the lucrative potential of the Marine Corps’ leftovers. The Marines training at Twentynine Palms from dawn until dusk have turned the arid sand into a goldmine of metals primed for scrappers, who sneak onto base property illegally, collect discharged munitions, and sell them for profit to local recycling centers.

“They have the ability to just pick up as much as they can pick up,” Troy said. “They’re looking for high-value material. So our brass is a high-value material.”

Besides latent threats these scrappers face like unintentionally stumbling across a live fire training exercise, Troy said there are also risks of unexploded ordinances in the field.

“There have been a couple of incidents where they’d go out and find somebody. They found a couple scrappers that had died near their vehicle. They found a few vehicles that had been stranded out there that had materials in the back that were unsafe.”

Troy said the recycling center cooperates with San Berdardino County Sheriffs Office and conservation law enforcement officer Russell Elswick to prosecute scrappers who have illegally taken metal materials from the base.

For its environmental efforts, including recycling and water reclamation, the Twentynine Palms MCAGCC was awarded the 2015 Secretary of Defense Environmental Non-Industrial Installation Award.