Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Climate Change Influences Shareholders Concerns Methane Emissions, Lobbying Subjects of Resolutions Filed Ahead of Annual Meetings

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Climate Change Influences Shareholders Concerns Methane Emissions, Lobbying Subjects of Resolutions Filed Ahead of Annual Meetings

Article excerpt

It's not the most efficient way to get your news, but if you want to know what's been scarring the oil and gas industry in the past year, you can browse through shareholder resolutions.

Let's go back to the years 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Shale gas development was in full swing. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had begun a study of hydraulic fracturing. And the single most popular shareholder issue in those years was the environmental impact of fracking.

In 2014, attention turned to greenhouse gas emissions, with more shareholders asking oil and gas firms to account for their carbon footprint and set goals to reduce it.

Last year, a corporate governance issue - the ability of shareholders to nominate candidates for the board of directors - took top billing. With natural gas prices settling in for a "lower for longer" scenario, there were also a number of resolutions aimed at getting companies to think about how their assets could become stranded if either an economic or regulatory environment prohibits their development.

For this year's slate of resolutions, look no further than the massive gas leak in California that has displaced thousands of Los Angeles residents and allegations of a decades-long campaign by Exxon Mobil Corp. to undermine the climate change movement.

It's still early in this year's proxy season - most companies hold annual meetings between April and June - but there are two clear issue leaders emerging in the resolutions filed to date: concerns about methane emissions and political activity.

"This is a critical moment for investors to press oil and gas companies to be transparent about their lobbying expenditures and assess whether their lobbying dollars are spent to maintain the status quo on climate change policy," said Timothy Smith of Walden Asset Management, which has joined with other shareholders in filing resolutions with 11 oil and gas firms.

Walden and like-minded shareholders want fossil fuel firms to tell investors what public policies they're trying to advance, which ones they're hoping to squash and who they're paying to advance their causes. That includes memberships in trade associations that often engage in lobbying and litigation on their members' behalf.

Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Cecil-based Consol Energy Inc. are facing such resolutions this year.

Shareholder resolutions are typically non-binding and frequently don't garner majority support at company meetings. Still, they serve as a barometer of sentiment and are often intended as a consciousness-raising exercise for shareholders and companies alike.

Lobbying and political activity disclosures have been the most popular cause of shareholder resolutions across all industries, according to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, which publishes the Proxy Monitor. …

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