Strange Bedfellows Unite to Pressure Oil Giants
WASHINGTON - Americans -- from nonprofit groups to the Rockefeller family -- are starting to fight back against the petroleum industry, which is earning record profits as consumers face spiraling gas prices.
Co-Op America, with around 70,000 members, has launched a campaign aimed at forcing ExxonMobil to invest more of its profits into exploring alternative energy sources, while another group seeks to change the priorities of the powerful American Petroleum Institute.
Ahead of this month's ExxonMobil stockholders meeting, 66 of 78 adult heirs of John D. Rockefeller, who founded the company's predecessor, Standard Oil, supported four resolutions aimed at making the oil giant hew a more environmentally friendly and forward-looking line.
Exxon saw a record $40.6 billion profit in 2007, and is headed in the same direction for 2008, earning over $10 billion during the first quarter. It plans to spend $25 billion on research and exploration of carbon-based fuels.
"We think a few of those billions should go towards looking to the future and the kind of energy we might need," Neva Rockefeller Godwin, an economist and great-granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller, stated at a May 1 press conference.
The unlikely alliance that sprung up to grab the attention of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson at the May shareholder meeting also includes other institutional investors, such as state pension funds in California and Connecticut whose managers fear that the company's refusal to look beyond carbon fuels could lead to its downfall.
One of the shareholder resolutions called on Tillerson to step down as chairman and hand this role to an outsider. According to Co-Op America, this would "create more independent oversight of the company and its role in climate change." Rockefeller Godwin complained that Exxon treats shareholders as "pesky" annoyances who "act as if they own the company."
While the resolutions are not binding, support from shareholders is significant. Last year 31 percent of Exxon's shareholders supported a resolution asking the company to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, which had risen by 5 percent in 2006. Some 40 percent supported changes in ExxonMobil's management structure. Other resolutions called for greater investment in research into alternative energy and climate change.
Similar pressure is now being brought to bear on the American Petroleum Institute (API), whose largest member is ExxonMobil. The Washington, D.C.-based group Earthworks launched a campaign today demanding that API forgo a planned multi-million dollar public relations campaign in favor of investment in alternative energy sources.
Earthworks President Bruce Baizel told API in a letter: "The best public relations your industry could buy would be to take the funds you have earmarked for this campaign and spend them, starting today, to create and bring to market renewable, sustainable energy sources."
Like Co-Op America, which has asked consumers around the country to send a letter to ExxonMobil, Earthworks' "No Dirty Energy" campaign will rely on consumers to put pressure on oil companies. The campaign also intends to "expose irresponsible corporate behavior" while highlighting companies that "simultaneously advance their corporate interest and the public good," Baizel stated in a Wednesday press release.
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