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It’s a Watershed Year for ExxonMobil and Chevron

Words by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment
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It has been said that 2016 is a watershed year for fossil fuel companies, including ExxonMobil and Chevron. Both companies held their annual shareholder’s meetings on Wednesday, and both were called on to do more about climate change.

Climate activists have Exxon under the microscope. Media investigations revealed that the oil and gas giant knew about climate change since the late 1970s, yet funneled money into denial organizations while failing to report climate change risks to investors. The Los Angeles Times investigated Exxon earlier this year and found that the company’s failures to disclose climate change risks to investors could “amount to securities fraud and violations of environmental laws.”

Reports by both Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times reveal that Exxon incorporated climate change into both its plans and practices in the 1980s and 1990s. And it did so while publicly casting doubt on climate change. Investigations by Inside Climate News detail a company that researched climate change risks in the late 1970s and most of the 1980s, but did not inform investors or the public about those risks.

Exxon is under investigation by a number of state attorneys general as well, including California and New York, the first states to launch investigations into the company’s dodgy climate change dealings. In April, a group of attorneys general representing 17 states, Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands announced their plans to collaborate on climate change, including investigations into fossil fuel companies that misled investors and the public about climate change risks to their businesses.

A California law would give state prosecutors more authority to investigate fossil fuel companies. The Climate Science Truth and Accountability Act (SB 1161), introduced by California State Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), would extend the statute of limitations under the state’s Unfair Competition Law from four years to 30 years. A summary of the bill states: “Given the environmental, health, and economic impacts that Californians are already paying for as a result of the fossil fuel industry's many years of public deception and their efforts to block action on climate change, it is important to hold the industry responsible.”

Exxon likely won't be the only fossil fuel company to face investigations. Back in November, the New York State Attorney General’s office launched an investigation into Exxon on its climate change record. That same month, the New York Times reported that Exxon and other fossil fuel companies, including Texaco which is now part of Chevron, were all members of a coalition “that started an advertising campaign in the 1990s opposing Washington’s involvement in strong international efforts like the Kyoto Protocol initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Proponents of climate-related shareholder proposals will make their cases at both meetings. And two days before the meetings, representatives from several organizations, including the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), held a press conference. Kathy Mulvey from UCS moderated the press conference. She acknowledged that since the annual shareholders meetings at Exxon and Chevron last year, there have been “significant changes,” including the public revelations that fossil fuel companies knew about climate change risks for decades “yet choose to deceive the public.”

“Our groups are concerned that failure by Chevron and ExxonMobil to correct past abuses, make a clean break from climate denial, improve tracking and disclosure, insure consistency in lobbying and adapt to changing climate policies is systematic of larger problems of corporate governments and management,” Mulvey declared on Monday.

On May 25, Exxon and Chevron shareholders will vote on climate change resolutions. One shareholder resolution asks Chevron’s board to “institute a comprehensive review” of the company’s “positions, oversight and processes related to public policy advocacy on energy policy and climate change and share a summary of findings, omitting confidential information, with investors by September 2016.” A similar resolution asks Exxon to do the same.

Will Exxon's and Chevron's shareholders take climate change seriously by passing those and other resolutions on the issue that affects its assets? We will see! Check back to 3p for updates.

Image credit: Flickr/Quinn Dombrowski

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman