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Houston Chronicle: Exxon Mobil could get an earful

Shareholder proposals up for vote today address emissions, renewables

May 30, 2007, 1:47AM
By KRISTEN HAYS
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

Pension fund angry over climate strategy Exxon Mobil Corp.’s reticence to invest in renewable and alternative energies beyond research in the short term could dominate its annual shareholder meeting today.

Shareholder proposals up for votes include investment in renewables and adopting goals on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Management opposes both as unprofitable or redundant, recommending shareholders reject them as they have similar proposals in past years.

“The corporation’s traditional business areas remain critical and promise far greater value than renewables, which currently lack the scale and economic competitiveness of our core business opportunities,” the company said in its annual proxy statement.

Exxon Mobil cites its $100 million investment in renewable and alternative energy research at Stanford University when asked about lack of spending on such initiatives.

It does so in the proxy responding to the climate change-related shareholder proposals.

But the Stanford Board of Trustees Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility, which oversees the university’s endowment securities, is voting for the greenhouse gas shareholder proposal.

Kirk Miller, a Stanford engineering alumnus who led a petition drive to get the panel’s support for that proposal, said the university’s graduates “greatly appreciate” Exxon Mobil’s investment in Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project, which was launched in December 2002.

Exxon Mobil, along with founding corporate sponsors General Electric, Toyota and Schlumberger, agreed to invest a collective $225 million over 10 years for research on renewable and alternative energies, according to the project.

‘Walk the walk’

“We believe that GCEP is a very valuable project. However, we ask that our corporate donors walk the walk,” Miller said, citing Toyota’s Prius hybrid and General Electric’s eco-friendly initiatives from solar energy to light bulbs.

The greenhouse gas proposal, by the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, N.J., notes that Exxon Mobil has made “incremental improvements” in energy efficiency and emissions reductions through cogeneration, advanced lubricants, flaring reductions and carbon capture.

But it says the company’s goal to improve energy efficiency by 10 percent through 2012 across its U.S. refining operations doesn’t address greenhouse gas emissions.

So the proposal asks Exxon Mobil to adopt quantitative goals for reducing emissions from its products and operations and report to shareholders by September on its plans.

The company’s response

Exxon Mobil responded in its proxy that it already discloses information about emissions cuts at its facilities on its Web site and will follow any greenhouse gas laws and regulations.

The company also said that despite its efforts to boost efficiency, emissions will rise with oil and gas production needed to meet ever-growing demand.

“Even with extensive efficiency and emissions improvements, and with policy steps to address emissions, nearly all outlooks project that rising global demand for oil and natural gas will result in larger emissions of greenhouse gases from these sources,” the company said.

The renewable energy investment proposal is from Stephen Viederman, former president of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, an environmental group. It pushes Exxon Mobil to invest in and produce renewable energy in addition to fossil fuels.

The company response includes that it’s seeking to reduce emissions at its operations. It also cited energy demand outlooks predicting fossil fuels will continue to supply 80 percent or more of the world’s energy over the next quarter-century despite growth in renewables such as biofuels, solar and wind energy.

Chief hurdle

Such technologies now depend on subsidies to be profitable, which Exxon Mobil has cited as a chief hurdle to investment. BP, Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell and most recently ConocoPhillips all have varying degrees of investment in renewables and alternatives, in addition to supporting research.

Improved technology that will lead to alternatives that are profitable without subsidies is key, the company said in the proxy.

“We chose to be a founding GCEP sponsor because we are committed to the belief that step-out, game-changing research is required to accelerate the development of commercially viable energy technologies that can lower greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale,” Exxon Mobil spokesman Gantt Walton said.

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1 Comment on “Houston Chronicle: Exxon Mobil could get an earful”

  1. #1 Forsythe Alex
    on May 30th, 2007 at 11:35

    Walk the Walk

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