By JEFFREY WEISS
Energy Writer email@example.com
The effects of global warming on people — and on the world’s largest publicly traded oil company — took up most of the discussion Wednesday at Exxon Mobil’s annual shareholders meeting in Dallas.
And outside, dozens of protesters pushed a common message: If the burning of fossil fuels keeps heating up the planet, Texans have a lot to lose.
Most shareholder-initiated resolutions related to climate change failed. But one passed, calling for creating a new path for shareholders to nominate candidates for the board of directors. CEO and chairman Rex Tillerson gave no ground during discussions and questions from shareholders about the company policy on climate change.
But climate change wasn’t just a topic pushed by a few shareholders or protesters. Even the company’s prepared presentation devoted considerable time to the topic. It made the case that Irving-based Exxon is doing what it can to reduce the risk of climate change. Nothing in the presentations expressed any skepticism that the planet is getting warmer and that burning carbon fuels has an effect.
But how big is the risk? How should Exxon respond to that risk? Those are the areas where environmental advocates and the company continue to divide.
While most of the speakers at the meeting criticized Exxon’s policies, most of those in attendance were solidly behind the company. After Tillerson delivered a resolute response to a climate change scientist, the room erupted in applause.
The nonbinding shareholder resolutions included:
› To require a division between the jobs of CEO and chairman. The idea is that the CEO then would have more time to work on how the company should respond to climate change; 38.8 percent voted yes.
› To require the board to have at least one expert on climate change; 20.9 percent voted yes.
› To require the company to pay higher dividends because climate change would lower the value of Exxon assets; 4.1 percent voted yes.
›To require the company to produce an annual report assessing the potential financial impact of changing government policy and demand for oil and gas; 38.2 percent voted yes.
› To commit the company to work to limit global warming to a total of 2 degrees Celsius; 18.5 percent voted yes.
The one that passed, with 61.9 percent of the vote, would put Exxon where most other large publicly traded companies have already gone, said Dennis McCuistion, director of the University of Texas at Dallas Institute for Excellence in Corporate Governance. Offering a way for shareholders to nominate directors is not a radical new idea.
The approved resolution would allow anyone who has owned 3 percent of Exxon stock for three years to nominate a candidate for the board. Partly, it’s a symbolic change. After all, nomination is not the same as election. But a shareholder with 3 percent of Exxon stock would get attention by sending up a nomination, McCuistion said.
“The fact that someone owns that much stock and they see, in their opinion, a change needs to be made, it could be more than symbolic,” he said. “A lot of other shareholders might fall in line if there are challenges.”
A similar resolution last year fell just short of a majority of Exxon shareholders. The tie to climate change? Supporters said it would be one way to advance nominees to the board whose position on how the company should react to global warming would differ from that of the current members.
While official business proceeded inside the Meyerson Symphony Center, protesters and speakers outside railed against the company and its polices.
On the plaza across the street from the center, protesters placed a sign that read “We could’ve prevented this if Exxon had not lied” in front of an ice sculpture as it melted away in the heat.
Activist speakers included Anna Kalinsky, the granddaughter of former Exxon climate scientist James Black. Kalinsky talked about how her grandfather told Exxon in 1977 that burning fossil fuels was already causing global warming.
“Instead of working to address climate change, they invested in lobbyists and groups that contradicted the very science that my grandfather had warned them about,” she told the crowd.
A few minutes later, she told the same story inside the hall during discussion of the shareholder resolutions.
For several Dallas residents, the rally was an opportunity to express their discontent with how the oil industry influences Texas politics. They specifically criticized Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who filed notice of his intention to intervene in any investigations into whether Exxon misled investors about the company’s financial risks with climate change.
Ernest Jones, a software consultant from Dallas, said that Paxton is part of the Exxon problem and that he needs to take a better look at the facts.
“We need to help him realize that he’s missing something, that oil and gas are changing the planet,” he said. “He’s focused on how oil and gas improve our economy and help us have the things we have, but he’s not seeing the harm that it’s causing.”
Inside the meeting, Tillerson repeated the official position that the risk of higher temperatures is important but that the biggest energy supply for the foreseeable future will be fossil fuels.
“We are grounded in the world we live in today and the technology we have available to us today,” Tillerson said.
Staff writer Ellen Meyers contributed to this report.