Southern Co., ExxonMobil Face Shareholder Challenges

by | May 26, 2010

Southern Company and ExxonMobil are facing shareholder actions that are calling for them to improve their environmental records and to share information about their environmental risks.

Southern Company has two resolutions on the ballet at its annual shareholder meeting, which focuses on risks from the company’s environmental practices. The power company also faces increased pressure to improve its environmental record in relation to coal ash and other issues.

The coal ash resolution at Southern Company, filed by Green Century Capital Management, has the support of both RiskMetrics and Proxy Governance, two major proxy advisory services.

A group of 25 business leaders in the Southeast, who are part of the Green America Business Network, also sent a letter (PDF) to Southern Company asking the company to improve its environmental record and to address issues such as climate change, global warming, and environmental hazards such as coal ash ponds.

In January, Southern Company announced it will be working on several renewable energy projects with Ted Turner, focusing on large-scale solar projects.

Last year, Southern Power announced plans to spend about $500 million in completing a biomass facility, which will supply about 100 megawatts of power. The plant should be completed sometime in 2012.

Southern Company is also leading the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Carbon Capture Center (NCCC) to speed up the development and testing of new technologies to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from coal-based power plants.

Meanwhile, ExxonMobil is expected to face it first shareholder resolution that challenges the way the company discloses information about investments in Canadian oil sands, according to Green Century.

The resolution has support from the largest proxy advisory firm, RiskMetrics Group, along with pension funds such as the California State Teachers Retirement Fund (CalSTRS).

According to Green Century, at the end of 2009, ExxonMobil’s total proved reserves in the oil sands were over 2.7 billion barrels, nearly 12 percent of the company’s total proved reserves and almost 25 percent of the company’s liquid reserves. In addition, the company’s new $8-billion oil sands mining project, Kearl, will begin operations in 2012.

Investors and independent analysts are said to have concerns over the long-term economic viability of oil sands development due to the high costs of extracting and converting oil sands, along with risks to future profitability as a result of rising carbon costs, environmental regulations, and oil price fluctuations.

ExxonMobil’s shareholders also say there is potential risk from legal challenges filed by local indigenous communities impacted by oil sands pollution and ecological harm, which could slow or halt oil sands development.

The company has faced stakeholder concerns since 2007, when ExxonMobil’s transparency on climate change issues was called into question.

U.S. investor groups have filed 95 global warming shareholder resolutions with public corporations, a 40 percent increase over last year, according to the Investor Network on Climate Risk.

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