This is a companion piece to the audio story from KERA News. Listen to the aired radio story in the player above.
Shareholders at Exxon’s annual meeting rejected several resolutions backed by environmentalists that would have pushed the company to take a stronger stand in favor of steps to limit climate change.
CEO Rex Tillerson said the company was balancing its responsibility to produce more energy to meet growing demand with environmental considerations.
Over the board’s opposition, shareholders voted to ask directors to adopt a proxy-access rule, which would make it easier for shareholders to propose board candidates and remove incumbent directors.
Wednesday’s meeting occurred as Exxon Mobil Corp. faces volatile crude prices. After the price collapse that began in mid-2014, Exxon earned $16.15 billion last year, its smallest profit since 2002. Crude prices have rebounded since February but remain about half of what they were at their last peak.
Exxon is also dealing with investigations by officials in several states into what the company knew and allegedly didn’t disclose about oil’s role in climate change.
Shareholders rejected resolutions including a policy to limit global warming, put a climate expert on the board, and report on the drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking. None achieved even 25 percent support, although some received more support than in past years.
Tillerson said Exxon has long realized that the risk of climate change is serious and might require action. But any policies, he said, must be implemented evenly across the world, allow market prices to pick solutions, and be flexible enough to respond to economic ups and downs and “new discoveries and breakthroughs in climate science.”
Across the street from the meeting hall, about 60 protesters gathered and urged large shareholders such as pension funds to divest their shares. Many held signs with slogans such as “Exxon Liar Liar Earth on Fire.”
KERA’s Stephanie Kuo reports that shareholders are expected to vote on a resolution to push Exxon Mobil to disclose the risks of climate change to its business:
These types of resolutions have been floated by Exxon Mobil shareholders before, and they haven’t gotten anywhere. The resolution calls for the company to publish an annual report of financial impacts from potential climate change policies.
In December, 195 governments pledged to cut carbon emissions from fossil fuels as part of the Paris climate change accord. Exxon Mobil has also denied accusations from environmentalists that it purposely misled the public about climate change risks.
Exxon Mobil says it takes climate change seriously and has reduced greenhouse gas emissions in its operations.
Investors say they’re worried the largest publicly traded energy company in the world is not prepared to adapt to a business world less reliant on fossil fuels.