Friday, May 2, 2008

Rockefellers Urge ExxonMobil To Go Green

There’s been an amazing development in the Corporate Overlord department this week, one mentioned little in the press since it doesn’t concern flag pins or rabid preacher types. However, it does concern America’s energy future, so I hope we’re all paying attention.

In short, it looks like one of America’s oldest dynasties is trying to put the fear of God in ExxonMobil:
Members of the Rockefeller family took a fight with Exxon Mobil Corp. public Wednesday, challenging the oil giant spawned by John D. Rockefeller to split the roles of chairman and chief executive and focus more on renewable energy.

The family members, who call themselves the company's longest continuous shareholders, said they are concerned that Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil is too focused on short-term gains from soaring oil prices and should do more to invest in cleaner technology.
 Separating the leadership roles, they argue, would better position the company for challenges to come.

"They are fighting the last war and they're not seeing they're facing a new war," said Peter O'Neill, the great-great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller who heads the family committee dealing with Exxon Mobil.

Wow. Let me offer a hearty round of applause--and thanks--to the Rockefeller family. The Rockefellers have sponsored four proxy resolutions--all of which the Board of Directors recommend a vote “against,” I might add--which would push the company in a green direction.

Frankly, being the indoctrinated little capitalist that I am, I always assumed ExxonMobil, Chevron and the rest would have led us to our new energy future by now, seeing as how their own futures depend on it (in fact, I wrote about it here).

That they haven’t is extremely disappointing to me. Call it my wake-up to the ways of the world, akin to learning there is no Santa Claus: corporations are only focused on short-term profits, I now realize; the long-term is someone else's problem (a philosophy echoed by our "MBA President," I might add). Just look at GM and Ford over the past 20 years: at least where American corporate giants are concerned, short-sightedness is a feature, not a bug.

Anyway, shareholder resolutions are notoriously ineffective, since most are non-binding, so even if a resolution gets passed the board can still do what it wants anyway. I tend to vote for them regardless, especially the ones related to executive compensation and human rights or environmental issues. The board needs to know how we feel.

But the Rockefeller resolutions are especially powerful, since they have become so public. ExxonMobil is in a sense the Rockefeller family business, so this is a very public smackdown of a corporation that continues to rake in obscene profits: another $11 billion in the first quarter of this year, in fact.

That’s billion, with a “B.” Profit, not gross.

One gets the sense that the ExxonMobil folks are pigs feeding at the trough, instead of corporate leaders guiding America into her new energy future.

When we aren't debating lame-brain ideas like summer “gas tax holidays” or drilling in a national wildlife refuge with so few oil reserves even Big Oil isn't interested, we're toppling unfriendly Middle Eastern dictators. Does this make sense to anyone?

Meanwhile, European countries are jumping to the front of the technology line. Thomas Friedman shared this dire news in Wednesday’s column:

While all the presidential candidates were railing about lost manufacturing jobs in Ohio, no one noticed that America’s premier solar company, First Solar, from Toledo, Ohio, was opening its newest factory in the former East Germany — 540 high-paying engineering jobs — because Germany has created a booming solar market and America has not.

In 1997, said Resch, America was the leader in solar energy technology, with 40 percent of global solar production. “Last year, we were less than 8 percent, and even most of that was manufacturing for overseas markets.”

There is money to be made in alternative energy, and jobs to be created. But President Bush and the Republicans in the Senate wouldn’t even extend solar and wind energy tax credits, although they left the ones for oil and gas.

With $11 billion in profits for one quarter, why the hell do the oil companies need tax credits? This makes no sense. Our utter lack of leadership in Washington will have dire repercussions for years to come.

Maybe proposals like the Rockefellers’ will have some impact. For heaven's sake, no one would confuse them with a bunch of tie-dye wearing, pot-smoking hippies, right?

For crying out loud, we have to get off the oil tit. America's future depends on it. Do we really want to be the Portugal of the new millenium?