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Big Oil Meetings Draw Activists, Some Protest Votes

Braden Reddall and Anna Driver

People protest in front of Chevron Corporation headquarters in San Ramon, California, May 27, 2009. Protesters gathered in front of Chevron headquarters during their annual share holders meeting. (REUTERS/Kimberly White)

SAN RAMON, Calif./DALLAS - Chevron Corp shareholders rejected a call for an environmental protection report on its operations, disappointing activists and funds worried by a $27 billion damages claim against it in Ecuador.

The closely watched proposal at its annual meeting on Wednesday, for a report on protection of people and the environment in countries where it operates, had 7 percent support from shareholders, the oil company said, citing preliminary results.

About five or six dozen protesters gathered outside its headquarters in San Ramon, California, to attack the company's environmental record, while other activists addressed management and shareholders at the meeting inside.

Larger rival Exxon Mobil Corp remains a favorite target of environmentalists and politicians, but a drop in oil prices in the past year muted dissent at its meeting in Texas.

Chevron is battling the massive claim over jungle pollution in Ecuador, and that case, in which a ruling is due this year, is among the issues cited by a group of mostly U.S. state and municipal funds in the rejected proposal.

Chevron, which says votes on similar issues at past meetings got support of 8 percent to 10 percent, had criticized 'Item 10' as part of a campaign led by trial lawyers to force the company to settle the Ecuador case.

Plaintiffs in the case, which has now run for a decade and a half, contend that Texaco -- bought by Chevron in 2001 -- polluted the jungle and damaged their health by dumping billions of gallons of contaminated water from 1972 to 1992.

"I think that the senior management of the company is hiding the truth from the board and from shareholders," Luis Yanza, founder of the Amazon Defense Coalition representing communities in the polluted rainforest, said at the meeting.

But Chevron Chief Executive David O'Reilly told a previous Ecuadorean speaker that any problems suffered by his people were the responsibility of state-run oil company Petroecuador.

"Yes, there are definitely problems in the area in which you live, but these problems are not the problems of Texaco," O'Reilly said.



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As for Exxon, the supermajor successfully fended off shareholder proposals related to governance, climate change, global warming and renewable fuels.

"Certainly for the foreseeable future, the world is going to continue to rely on fossil fuels," Chief Executive Rex Tillerson told shareholders at the meeting in downtown Dallas.

About three protesters showed up outside the building, holding signs encouraging Exxon to stop global "war - ming."

Some investors say Exxon must sharpen its focus on renewable fuels and climate change sooner rather than later as cutting carbon emissions becomes a higher priority for governments.

"Data shows that if Exxon Mobil remains committed to its present path, burning fossil fuels, it will greatly harm poor nations, and their people most of all," Ann Rockefeller Roberts said.

A binding proposal to establish an independent chairman, a measure the company opposed, failed, with only 30 percent of Exxon shareholders backing it.

A similar measure, pushed hard by some members of the Rockefeller family at last year's meeting, also failed. John D. Rockefeller founded Exxon precursor Standard Oil Co in 1870.

In his address to shareholders, Tillerson said Exxon would stick with investing to help meet global energy demand, a strategy he said had helped it weather the current downturn.

Activists targeting oil companies have had more success in Europe recently. At Royal Dutch Shell's annual meeting last week, investors rejected the oil major's executive pay plan in a rare move that reflected growing frustration at high corporate payouts in the economic downturn.

(Reporting by Braden Reddall in San Ramon and Anna Driver in Dallas; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Gary Hill)

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