Exxon Mobil Holds Support
Exxon Mobil Corp. shareholders overwhelmingly voted down each of a dozen resolutions presented Wednesday during an annual meeting marked by tight security and stricter controls on shareholder remarks.
But several proposals – related to the environment and gay rights – gained votes over previous years, thanks to support from environmental groups and institutional shareholders.
Exxon Mobil has maintained its challenge of scientific claims on global warming and the viability of renewable energy technologies that many of its major competitors have pursued.
The world’s largest publicly traded energy company has focused on fossil fuels, such as oil and natural gas, because wind and solar power are unlikely to exceed 1 percent of the world’s energy supply by 2020, chairman and chief executive Lee Raymond said.
“Our track record demonstrates that we know the difference between good and bad investments,” Dr. Raymond told shareholders at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, during a meeting that lasted more than three hours.
“We won’t jump on the bandwagon just because others may have a different view,” he said. “And we don’t invest to make social statements at the expense of shareholder returns.”
Shareholder resolutions at public companies rarely garner a majority of votes, and the sponsors of several proposals said they were pleased by their returns.
Show of support
The most heavily pushed was a new resolution calling on the Irving-based oil company to prepare a more detailed report about how it plans to address financial risks from climate change. It received 22 percent of the 5.5 billion shares cast. A resolution calling for a report on renewable energy received 21 percent of the votes cast, up from 20.2 percent last year and 8 percent the year before.
“Every increase is just moving the issue further into the public arena,” said the Rev. Michael Crosby, corporate responsibility agent for the Midwest Capuchin Franciscans, who sponsored the renewable energy proposal.
Remarks from throngs of shareholders have become a tradition for the Exxon Mobil annual meeting, which has long been a target of environment and human rights activists.
On Wednesday, Dr. Raymond fielded more than 50 comments – most taking about two minutes each – for and against the proposals. Some shareholders objected to new meeting rules alternating the comments from supporters and opponents on each proposal, at separate microphones and monitored for time limits by a system of green, yellow and red lights.
Critics said Exxon Mobil changed the procedure to give its supporters – including company-backed groups – more leverage. Dr. Raymond said it was designed to provide both sides of each issue.
“I thought there was a new level of mockery for the shareholder process,” said Sister Pat Daly of the Dominican Sisters of Caldwell, N.J., the lead filer on the climate change resolution. “The company spent a great deal of lobbying resources to try to diffuse support.”
The highest vote came for a resolution on an anti-takeover “poison pill” provision, which received 32.3 percent of the vote, down from 44.9 percent.
A resolution to include sexual orientation in Exxon Mobil’s anti-discrimination policies received 27.1 percent of the votes, up from 23.9 percent last year and 13 percent the year before.
The two environment proposals and the nondiscrimination proposal gained greater support last year and this year in part from a recommendation by Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., an influential firm that advises corporate investors.
But Exxon Mobil was unfazed by the increase.
“The track that the company and the board are on is very consistent with where we’ve been and consistent with our views and philosophies,” Dr. Raymond told reporters after the meeting. “There’s nothing I’ve seen in the vote so far that would suggest that there should be a significant change.”
No tiger suits
Shareholders at the meeting were greeted by an escalated police presence and tight security after 36 protesters from the environmental group Greenpeace – including some in tiger costumes – stormed Exxon Mobil’s Irving headquarters Tuesday morning and disrupted operations there.
A third of those arrested had posted bail by Wednesday afternoon, and the rest were awaiting arraignment, Irving police said. Exxon Mobil obtained a temporary restraining order Tuesday barring Greenpeace from interfering with its meeting. State District Judge Charles Stokes granted the order.
With many Exxon Mobil critics away, the view outside the symphony center appeared more like a wild company celebration than a critique of its policies. Several dozen Exxon Mobil supporters marching on one side of the building entrance outnumbered environmental protesters on the other side.
“We’re sick and tired of the radical left agenda using our boardrooms to promote their own leftist agenda,” said Peggy Venable, director of Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, one of several groups countering the protesters.
“What they’re really trying to do is promote a one-world government,” she said, referring to the Kyoto protocol on global warming.
Dressed in “God Bless America” T-shirts and even a Statue of Liberty costume, the company supporters chanted, “We love free enterprise,” “Show us the science” and “Go back to France.”
Referring to the controversial proposal to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Exxon Mobil supports, they chanted: “Drill ANWR, lay pipe, keep the caribou warm.”