Acton Institute Powerblog

Religious shareholders attack ExxonMobil’s reputation, worry about oil giant’s ‘reputational risk’

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The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, shareholder activists of the corporate God-fly variety, are gearing up for the May 25 ExxonMobil Corporation annual general meeting. The ICCR agenda isn’t about maximizing shareholder value, but seems far more intent on reducing it.

For the record, your writer possesses no financial stake in ExxonMobil, but if he did it’s certain he’d be upset mightily at ICCR’s efforts to hobble the industry giant and send stock prices plummeting even further. The religious-left activists of ICCR have submitted seven proxy resolutions aimed at ExxonMobil this season. Aiming to protect the interests of all its investors, the company challenged the resolutions, but was overruled by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. According to the ICCR website:

Included in this group of resolutions are calls for greater disclosure of lobbying activities that may be tied to the types of climate change denial campaigns currently under investigation, as well as a call for board expertise on environmental issues and a resolution asking that the company acknowledge the “moral imperative of limiting global warming to 2 celsius”, the threshold participants at the COP21 climate talks agreed could not be exceeded if we are to safeguard our planet’s future. Another resolution asks that the company assess the risks of their carbon assets within the context of this carbon-constrained future.

And this, from one of ICCR’s actual resolutions:

As a large GHG [greenhouse gas] emitter with carbon intensive products, ExxonMobil should robustly support the framework to address climate change resulting from the 21st Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2015. Constructive engagement on climate policy is especially important given Exxon’s historical role in financing climate denial and misinformation campaigns on climate change. Failing to address this could present reputational risk for ExxonMobil. In contrast to ExxonMobil, ten oil industry peers including Total, Shell, BP, and Saudi Aramco, and business leaders in other industries, support an international agreement to limit warming to 2°C.

Ahhh, “climate denial,” to which your writer sarcastically offers the interrogative: “Could there be anything more morally reprehensible than questioning the veracity of scientifically inconclusive claims of imminent catastrophic climate-change?” But such is the dogmatic nature of these corporate God-flies that the question is rendered rhetorical. Never mind the facts that support the use of fossil fuels as essential to reducing world poverty because facts usually get in the way of a good photo-opportunity.

The Washington Post, in an op-ed this week aimed at a specific U.S. presidential candidate who voices much the same claptrap as ICCR, refutes many of the generalized claims weighed against fossil fuels:

When burned, natural gas produces about half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal. The recent fracking boom contributed to a reduction in national carbon dioxide emissions over the past several years, as utilities switched from cheap coal to now-cheaper gas. It is true that some concerns remain. Methane leaks from natural gas wells and pipelines. Many worry about drinking water near fracking operations. But the government can require drillers to address these issues without shutting the industry. It is also true that natural gas is a waystation; though it is cleaner than coal, natural gas still produces carbon dioxide emissions. Yet gas’s price and emissions profile is still attractive enough that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, the most aggressive global warming policy the country has ever had, relies on gas displacing coal to meet medium-term emissions goals….

Nuclear accounts for about a fifth of the country’s electricity, and it is practically emissions-free. Shutting down that much clean electricity generation would put the country into a deep emissions hole…. Yet every dollar spent to replace one carbon-free source with another is a dollar that could have been spent replacing dangerous and dirty coal plants. Under [the candidate’s] vision, either the country would fail to maximize emissions cuts, or it would waste huge amounts of money unnecessarily replacing nuclear plants. Unsurprisingly, the Clean Power Plan relies on nuclear, too, assuming that the country will get about the same amount of electricity from nuclear in 2030.

Now, mind you, your writer doesn’t endorse all of the WaPo’s arguments. First of all, he’s not convinced cheap and plentiful coal should be removed completely from our nation’s energy portfolio as opposed to exercising cleaner ways of burning it for energy. And, while “many worry about drinking water near fracking operations” might sound like a compelling argument to “some” readers, it’s remarkably vague in identifying specific people, their numbers and the legitimacy of their concerns.

All told, however, it’s a far-more reasoned – and moral – response to the efforts ICCR is waging against ExxonMobil, other companies and their respective shareholders.

Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. Most recently, he was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2007 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past three years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Midland, Mich., with his wife Katherine.

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