My report on the tragicomedy that was the May 31, 2017 ExxonMobil shareholder meeting, as it appears in Investor’s Business Daily.
Letting Oil Haters Run Big Oil
By Steve Milloy
June 21, 2017, Investor’s Business Daily
It’s unprecedented in the history of business — the largest U.S. oil company has been officially captured by anti-oil political activists.
Last month at the Exxon Mobil (XOM) annual meeting, climate activists — people who openly say they oppose the continued production and burning of oil and gas — won a shareholder vote by a wide margin, 62% to 38%.
The proposal, a request for an annual report on the climate impacts of Exxon Mobil’s business, is not binding. But that is of little consequence. In addition to CEO Darren Woods caving in to the alarmists at the meeting and acknowledging that the board of directors would have to take the proposal seriously, the vote itself shows that climate activists own enough of the company to direct policy.
In 2008, I introduced a shareholder proposal at Exxon Mobil that would allow management to take advantage of state law to ban proposals from political activist shareholders. Then-CEO Rex Tillerson advised other shareholders to oppose my resolution.
As described on this page recently, I reintroduced the same proposal this year. Once again, management rejected it, not expecting to ever lose a shareholder proposal to the climate activists. I was told that Exxon Mobil liked to hear from its shareholders — as if turning its annual meeting into an activist circus was the only way to do so.
The ancient Greeks might have likened Exxon Mobil’s attitude to hubris — outrageous arrogance. Now, bona fide shareholders may pay the price for management’s cavalier and out-of-touch behavior.
Exxon Mobil management has tried to play the climate appeasement game since the mid-2000s when new CEO Tillerson bowed to activist pressure and stopped funding climate skeptics. Along the way, Exxon Mobil began openly supporting an anti-oil carbon tax. Most recently, Exxon Mobil urged President Trump to remain in the Paris Climate Accord.
While many viewed Exxon Mobil’s behavior as harmless “greenwashing” — insincere political correctness — management’s failure to take seriously this existential threat to the company has now produced the bizarre situation where almost two-thirds of its shareholders don’t seem to want the oil company to be in the oil business.
After sitting through the meeting, one might easily conclude that management feels the same way.
The majority of the CEO Woods’ slideshow featured concern for the consequences of carbon dioxide emissions. His slideshow certainly focused far more on emissions than production (5 million barrels of liquids per day) and profits.
Two of the three new technologies discussed at the meeting by the vice president for technology focused on emissions reduction, including the comical fantasy of physically, financially and politically impossible carbon capture and sequestration.
While the company told me to limit the presentation of my shareholder proposal to two minutes, the climate activists had carte blanche to talk far past the two-minute limit.
After the preliminary results of the shareholder votes were announced, giddy climate activist Sister Pat Daly offered a triumphant victory speech during which she thanked CEO Woods for his personal cooperation in pressing President Trump to remain in the Paris Climate Accord.
The progressive left has spent the last 50 or so years capturing and collecting American institutions including public and private schools and universities, the government bureaucracy, charities, professional associations, and the media, to name a few.
In the 1980s, the left began a concerted effort to capture large American corporations so as to be able to hijack corporate influence and resources in order to advance the left’s political agenda. Over the years, the left rather easily captured and infiltrated brand-conscious, non-energy-related corporations like Apple, Starbucks, Nike and the like. Now it has captured Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest oil company.
For the time being, we are fortunate that President Trump is seemingly impervious to climate hysteria, which is just a stalking horse for left-wing politics. It is deliciously ironic that just as the left captures Exxon, its corporate influence is entirely spurned the next day by the president.
We were lucky with President Trump’s Paris decision. But beware America. The left plays a long-term game. Unless corporate shareholders wise up, our entire wealth-creation machine may soon be in the hands of those who want to use that wealth against shareholders and the rest of us.
Milloy served on the Trump EPA transition team and is the author of “Scare Pollution: Why and How to Fix the EPA.”