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The New York Times: Exxon Investors Put Exec Pay Issue Above Climate

EXTRACT: “If that makes us not Shell — well, based on my results, I’m kind of glad we’re not Shell,” he said, referring to competitor Royal Dutch Shell.

By REUTERS

DALLAS (Reuters) – Exxon Mobil Corp. spent much of its annual meeting on Wednesday defending its environmental policy, but shareholders of the world’s largest company were more concerned with its executive pay and governance practices.

None of the 15 shareholder proposals that were up for approval at the annual meeting received 50 percent of the shareholder vote, but four dealing with pay and governance received at least 40 percent.

All four measures would increase the accountability of Exxon’s management and board for their policies and performance.

About 47.8 percent of the voting shareholders backed a measure that would give holders of 10 percent of Exxon’s outstanding common shares the right to call special shareholder meetings and 47.2 percent favored a proposal to allow the company to recoup incentive bonuses it determined not to be justified.

Proposals to give shareholders an advisory vote on executive pay and to split the chief executive and chairman positions got 41.2 percent and 40 percent of the vote, respectively.

But climate change was the central topic of discussion at the meeting and one environmental proposal — that the company adopt goals for greenhouse gas reductions from its products and operations — received 31 percent of the shareholder vote.

Exxon Chief Executive Rex Tillerson disputed claims by investor activists and environmentalists that the company is working to mislead the public about the causes of climate change.

“What I find perplexing is why people feel threatened because we want to have a discussion,” Tillerson said, when offering an explanation for why the company funds some groups that are skeptical of the mainstream scientific views of climate change.

“I’m not going to just adopt a slogan. If that makes me public enemy number one, so be it,” he said.

Investors also voted in all 12 nominees to Exxon’s board, including Michael Boskin, who received 93 percent of the vote despite an effort by a group of investors to unseat him in protest of the company’s climate policy.

PROTESTS OUTSIDE, INSIDE MEETING

About three dozen protesters — outnumbered by police — staged a peaceful demonstration outside the meeting against the company’s funding of groups they believe deny or distort the science of global warming.

The protesters waved banners with slogans like “People Before Profits” and chanted “No More Junk Science.”

“Exxon Mobil is double-crossing the public and policy makers. It’s avoiding real changes and continuing to fund groups that purposefully distort the science of global warming,” said Shawnee Hoover, the campaign director of Exxpose Exxon, a coalition of green and scientific groups.

They say the company still funds about 40 organizations that the environmental group classified as “global warming deniers,” shelling out over $2 million to the groups in 2006.

Exxon disagrees with the claim that the groups, many of which concern themselves with a wide range of issues, are “deniers of climate change.”

Exxon has said man-made greenhouse gas emissions could be a source of global warming, while arguing that climate science is still uncertain.

Most scientists believe the use of fossil fuels causes global warming.

Shareholder activists inside the meeting also took advantage of the opportunity to air their grievances about Exxon’s environmental record.

“Can you imagine what would happen if the largest company in the world stood up and took a leadership position” on climate change, Sister Patricia Daly, a Dominican nun, asked Tillerson.

“We are challenged by one of the most profound moral concerns and we have the wherewithal to respond,” she said.

Tillerson generally listened quietly as the shareholder proposals were presented, but became more lively as he disputed criticism of his company during the question and answer period that followed.

He said Exxon would continue to fund scientific research on climate change so the company can understand it better.

He also addressed claims that the company’s environmental policy would leave it at a financial disadvantage to its peers who have already made more concessions on the issue.

“If that makes us not Shell — well, based on my results, I’m kind of glad we’re not Shell,” he said, referring to competitor Royal Dutch Shell.

May 30, 2007

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