Exxon CEO takes on shareholders who want emissions cut

May 28th 2014

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson pushed back against criticism Wednesday that the company was not doing enough to reduce emissions and combat climate change.

He questioned climate modeling that suggests that reducing carbon dioxide emissions would curb global warming.

“There’s no one that has a viable pathway to achieve that,” he said at Exxon’s annual shareholders’ meeting. “What if everything I’m doing doesn’t work? Or the reasons for all this happening aren’t what we thought?”

As the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, Exxon has been taking heat for its opposition to efforts to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide and other gases connected to rising global temperatures.

A study released by a federal panel of scientists this month found that temperatures were rising across much of the United States and that communities were already feeling the effects of drought and increasing wildfires. It said average temperatures could increase by more than 10 degrees by the end of the century if carbon and methane emissions continue to rise.

At Wednesday’s meeting, shareholders from around the country gathered at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas to hear Tillerson’s views on the Irving-based company’s global oil, natural gas and chemical operations.

But time and again investors turned the conversation to climate change research, whose validity the company had questioned for years before seemingly taking a more middle-ground approach lately.

“The crisis is here. The wolf is at the door. The effects of human-induced climate change are being felt in every corner of the United States,” the Rev. Michael Crosby, a Franciscan friar, said from the audience. His parish is an investor in Exxon.

Shareholders introduced a proposal that Exxon set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But the company’s board opposed the move, and it was voted down by more than 75 percent of shareholders.

Proposals to limit Exxon board members’ participation on other corporate boards and prohibit discrimination against gay and lesbian employees also failed.

The controversy over emissions comes as Exxon and other large oil companies struggle on Wall Street. Profits were down more than 25 percent in 2013 to $32.6 billion, and over the last five years the S&P 500 index outperformed Exxon.

Tillerson urged shareholders to look at the company’s performance in decades, not single years.

“In capital-intensive industries like ours, it’s best if we look at performance over the long term,” he said.

As shareholders filed into the symphony hall, they did so amid yells from protesters across the street. Waving signs with Tillerson’s face on a wanted notice, they compared Exxon to a cancer.

Among them was state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, who has had a long affiliation with the Dallas Peace Center. He said he had boycotted Exxon since the Valdez oil spill in 1989.

“There’s not a whole lot more that can be said about Exxon Mobil,” he said. “They’re one of the most arrogant companies in the world.”