Shareholder activists test JPMorgan's Dimon on climate proposals

BOSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Shareholder activists focused on climate issues vowed to press proxy battles with JPMorgan Chase & Co JPM.N after getting a cold reception from the top Wall Street bank, even though Chief Executive Jamie Dimon has vowed to protect the environment.

FILE PHOTO: Jamie Dimon, chairman & CEO of JP Morgan Chase & Co., is pictured on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

Activists, including the As You Sow Foundation, Trillium Asset Management and Boston Trust Walden, said they had received notices that the bank has asked for regulatory permission to skip votes at its spring annual meeting on proposals such as reporting on greenhouse gas emissions tied to its lending.

JPMorgan’s position creates reputational risks at a time when clients and investors want banks to help slow the rate of a global rise in temperature, according to a joint statement from the activists on Wednesday.

“They’re not walking their talk,” said Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow, in an interview.

She noted how, in correspondence with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission posted on the agency’s website, JPMorgan argued that her group’s request for an emissions report amounted to an attempt to “micromanage” the company.

“I was surprised at the depth and breadth of the argument saying there’s no way you can talk to us about anything,” Fugere said.

Asked about the matter, a JPMorgan representative referred to arguments it laid out in filings to the SEC. In addition to the micromanagement concern, JPMorgan, among other things, said the issues related to “ordinary business” and that its board does not approve its proxy voting policy.

Top U.S. corporations routinely seek permission to skip controversial shareholder proposals. Activists have also filed climate proposals at other banks and energy companies, and have sought votes against JPMorgan lead independent director Lee Raymond, a former Exxon Mobil Corp CEO. XOM.N

The activists hope to get a boost from a recent announcement by top asset manager BlackRock Inc BLK.N to put more focus on environmental issues.

Indeed, other banks have been more receptive to such proposals, or at least, not tried to block them, said Christina Cobourn Herman, program director at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, which represents the activists. The group says JPMorgan is the largest financier of the fossil fuel industry among 33 top global banks.

Dimon has expressed support for the Paris Agreement to combat global climate warming, and in August joined the CEOs of more than 180 U.S. companies who signed a “statement of corporate purpose,” arguing that corporate America should focus on social responsibility, including protecting the environment.

Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston and Elizabeth Dilts Marshall in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum and David Gregorio