Exxon deal aside, tough proxy season looms at U.S. energy firms

BOSTON/HOUSTON (Reuters) - Climate activists said on Tuesday they would take a tough shareholder resolution off the table at Exxon Mobil Corp after the company agreed to provide new details about how climate change could affect its business.

FILE PHOTO - The logo of Exxon Mobil Corporation is shown on a monitor above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, December 30, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

But top U.S. oil and gas producers may still face dissension at their springtime shareholder meetings as investors look for more of them to provide additional details on a range of climate topics such as greenhouse gas reduction plans.

Exxon had been the focus of attention after a majority of investors in May backed a call for more disclosure about the impact that climate policies could have on its business, capping a wave of support for such resolutions.

However, late on Monday the company laid out its intended response, to report on matters like how it is positioned “for a lower-carbon future.”

In turn, one of the sponsors of the May resolution, New State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, moved to withdraw a refiled version of the shareholder resolution for Exxon’s 2018 meeting, his representatives said Tuesday.

Officials there, and at other investment funds, said their efforts were hardly over. Pat Doherty, DiNapoli’s director of corporate governance, said the office has filed a new round of climate proposals for the 2018 annual meetings of companies including Chesapeake Energy Corp and Southwestern Energy Co.

He also said the New York state comptroller’s office would monitor Exxon’s response and could turn against Exxon directors if its promised report does not provide enough specifics.

“There are any number of tools in our toolbox,” Doherty said.

Representatives for Southwestern and Chesapeake declined to comment.

Ceres, a Boston sustainability advocacy group, said it estimates about a dozen resolutions calling for climate impact reports have been filed so far at U.S. energy and utility companies for 2018. According to a count by Ceres of 16 public company votes on similar climate measures last year, most won support from more than 40 percent of shares voted.

The higher-than-usual results reflected how many top investors have come to view climate change as a practical problem even as U.S. President Donald Trump has made plans to quit a climate accord brokered in Paris two years ago.

At another climate conference in Paris, on Tuesday, fund leaders also described a new effort to push large corporations to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to take steps like disclosing more about their planning for a range of climate scenarios.

In all, some 225 investors managing a total of $26.3 trillion have signed up for the campaign, accounting for about a quarter of the investment base of the typical large company where changes would be sought, said Anne Simpson, investment director of sustainability for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System.

She noted signatories go beyond public pension funds to include mainstream asset managers such as Pacific Investment Management and Manulife Asset Management.

Climate concerns, Simpson said, have moved “from the sidelines to the mainstream.”

Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston and by Gary McWilliams in Houston; editing by David Gregorio and Diane Craft