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Shareholders challenge Exxon Mobil on climate

Some shareholders on Wednesday lambasted Exxon Mobil Corp.  for what they said was an irresponsible and even dangerous environmental stance.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Exxon Mobil Corp. on Wednesday reiterated its position that creating far-reaching policies to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions is important but premature, even as some shareholders lambasted the oil giant for what they said was an irresponsible and even dangerous environmental stance.

Record profits aside, the world's largest publicly traded oil company was criticized by a dozen or so of the 450 attending its annual shareholder meeting in a downtown symphony hall. In particular, a number of environmental-minded investors and shareholder activists asked the Irving-based company to set quantitative goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to commit to greater investment in renewable sources of energy.

They got neither.

Instead, Chairman and Chief Executive Rex Tillerson continued to insist the prudent strategy was to focus on finding and producing new supplies of crude oil and natural gas. The reason: Exxon Mobil is a petroleum and petrochemical company, and worldwide demand for its products will persist for decades.

Citing forecasts from the International Energy Agency, Exxon Mobil predicts fossil fuels will continue to supply roughly 80 percent of the world's energy needs in 2030.

Tillerson, leading his second shareholder meeting, called the climate-change debate an important issue but noted "there are some things we know, some things we don't know."

"What I find perplexing is why people feel so threatened because we want to have a discussion about it," he said.

Exxon Mobil has touted its $100 million donation to Stanford University for a project to speed development of commercially viable energy technology that can lower greenhouse gas emissions on a large scale. The company, whose $39.5 billion profit last year was the largest ever by a U.S. company, also has said it's on target to improve energy efficiency by 10 percent at its global refining operations by 2012.

But that's done little to appease those who say Exxon places profits ahead of a clean environment and has funded groups to cast doubt on the science of global warming.

Exxon Mobil is viewed among many environmentalists as a laggard compared with competitors such as BP PLC, ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell's U.S. arm, which have joined a corporate-environmental coalition urging Congress to require limits on greenhouse gases tied to global warming.

A number of shareholders asked why Exxon Mobil doesn't use more of its vast research and development resources to help solve the climate-change threat, saying that failing to do so threatens its long-term financial health.

Shareholder Stephen Viederman of New York likened Exxon Mobil's current tack to that of Ford and General Motors a quarter century ago, when they stuck with some larger models while foreign competitors began building more fuel-efficient cars.

"There's an eerie feeling of deja vu in the air," Viederman said.

Viederman even questioned the accuracy of Exxon Mobil's slogan — "Taking on the world's toughest energy challenges" — saying there was little evidence of commitment to any type of energy beyond oil and gas.

Exxon Mobil representatives say they're still studying whether proposals such as mandatory emissions caps — which ConocoPhillips, BP and Shell have endorsed — or a tax on carbon emissions are the way to combat global warming via public policy.

Ken Cohen, the company's vice president for public affairs, said any such policy would need to ensure a uniform and predictable cost of reducing carbon dioxide, promote global participation and adjust to new developments in climate science.

"What we're trying to do is make sure, as policy options are being developed and analyzed, that all of them are on the table and given a full and fair hearing," Cohen said.

On the topic of record gas prices, Exxon Mobil issued a news release offering several reasons for the recent spike. Among them, growing global demand — which it cites as the biggest factor — refinery upkeep that reduces the availability of imports, and instability in many oil-producing countries.

Exxon Mobil says its gasoline production this year is higher than last, "despite the costs associated with complying with government clean-air and clean-fuel regulations."

Wednesday afternoon trading rose $1.08, or 1.31 percent, to $83.70. That's near the 52-week high of $84.32.