Exxon Mobil shareholders act out, trying to change corporate policies | KERA News

Exxon Mobil shareholders act out, trying to change corporate policies

Dallas, TX – Sam Baker, KERA 90.1 Morning Edition host: Dozens of shareholder-activists lobbied the ExxonMobil board during its annual meeting yesterday. They hoped to change corporate policies on everything from global warming to gay rights. On every count, they failed, but say they won't give up. 90.1's Bill Zeeble has more.

Ambient sound of protestors chanting: When do you want ExxonMobil to protect America's Arctic? Now! When do you want Exxon to stop global warming? Now! And when...

Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 Reporter: A coalition of about 20 environmental, religious and human rights groups chanted only in the presence of the media outside the Dallas Meyerson Symphony Center yesterday. Afterwards, they moved inside to address ExxonMobil's board on six proposals. Jane Owen, granddaughter of a founder of Humble Oil, which was later folded into Exxon, said her grandfather would not approve of today's ExxonMobil giant.

Jane Owen, grandaughter of oil company founder: A lot has happened since 1903. We now know the product he was promoting was defective. There are emissions that are toxic and cancer-producing. And if he were alive today, and realized the product were defective, he'd be the first to make the necessary adjustments.

Zeeble: Shareholders, like Owen and Michael Crosby, have the right to speak and propose corporate policy changes. Crosby said his group of 18 different religious organizations owns $15,000,000 worth of ExxonMobil shares.

Michael Crosby, religious and environmental activist/shareholder: We want Exxon not to make a fossil out of itself in its dependence on fossil fuels for our energy sources for North America and the world.

Zeeble: Crosby's proposal urged ExxonMobil to pursue renewable energy like solar and electric power, as opposed to fossil-based oil and gas. Petroleum products, said Crosby, contribute to global warming, and the oil giant was way behind others working to develop renewable energy. Responding to this dominant issue at the meeting, ExxonMobil Chairman Lee Raymond read a statement to shareholders, signed, he said, by thousands of scientists, that defended the company's stance that shies away from embracing so-called renewables.

Lee R. Raymond, Chairman, ExxonMobil: There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases is causing or will in the foreseeable future cause catastrophic heating of the earth's atmosphere and destruction of the earth's climate. We have a view based on science of what is happening, and we're going to follow the science. We're not going to follow what's politically correct.

Zeeble: ExxonMobil Vice Chairman Lu Noto, who used to head Mobil Oil, said Exxon and Mobil had spent billions trying to develop renewable energy, yet couldn't come up with affordable, alternative power. He had headed a solar plant in Saudi Arabia before closing it down because it didn't work.

Lucio Noto, ExxonMobil Vice Chairman: At the end of the day, it was a very expensive hobby.

Zeeble: Other shareholders urged changes in ExxonMobil policies in poor nations like Chad and Cameroon, ruled by dictators. Chairman Lee Raymond defended company policies overseas, saying economic development is a way out of depression. Affordable energy, meaning oil, is not only vital, it's often the nation's only choice. Yet other protesters cited the corporate policy that prohibits non-spousal benefits to gays and lesbians. Mobil offered them before it merged with Exxon. Other oil companies provide them. Again, Chairman Lee Raymond.

Raymond: Our policy on no discrimination anywhere, anytime, anyplace, period, in 200 countries around the world, is the leading edge. Secondly, we've taken no rights away from anyone. Groups are as protected now as ever, whether it's for religion, sexual orientation color, whatever.

Zeeble: All activist proposals failed overwhelmingly. Jane Owen said she was not surprised, but also said she'd consider more than three per cent a victory. Every one of the six activist proposals pulled at least that many proxy votes. In time, Owen figured, they might eventually pass. For KERA 90.1, I'm Bill Zeeble.