Spending Against Change

Spending Against Change Heightens Climate Risk

Spending Against Change, a new report from the 50/50 Climate Project, finds that twenty-one of the largest energy and utility companies in the U.S. that have spent at least $670 million over six years to influence elections, regulators and lawmakers have limited board oversight of climate risk and political spending, and lack climate competent board members.

These corporations face the highest exposure to climate risk and are most in need of transformation. Yet, they are at the fore of fighting efforts to combat climate change in a manner that raises their risk profile over the long term. These companies typically have minimal board oversight of climate risk and almost no board members with relevant climate-related expertise.

A growing chorus of investors are asking these companies to manage climate risks responsibly to protect long-term shareholder interests. Shareholder resolutions from major investors have called for more disclosure and corporate board action to reduce climate change risk. Investors also called for better oversight of political spending activity at U.S. energy and utility companies. Spending Against Change finds the message is clearly not getting through to corporate boards of directors.

Key findings of Spending Against Change

  • Poor disclosure of political activity spending: At least $673 million spent over the past six years at the federal and state level to influence policy and support candidates for office, with limited voluntary disclosure to investors.
  • Lack of risk management: Six of the companies (Devon Energy, Dominion Energy, NextEra Energy, First Energy, Marathon Petroleum, and NRG Energy), have no explicit environmental risk management function at the board level.
  • No mention of climate change: 20 of the 21 companies do not mention climate change considerations in their corporate governance documents as a board obligation.
  • Fighting citizen clean energy initiatives: In Michigan, Florida, California, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington, companies spent over $50 million against citizen initiatives to advance clean energy and slow greenhouse gas pollution from fossil fuels.
Top political spenders Amount (2011 – 2016 – $ millions)
Exxon Mobil 96.9
Chevron 95.1
Southern Company 88.6
Duke Energy 58.8
NextEra Energy 52.9
Conoco Phillips 47.7
Occidental Petroleum 43.6

“One would think that, in 2018, the energy industry would have fully integrated the implications of climate change to its business model. One would be wrong,” said Nell Minow, Vice Chair of ValueEdge Advisors and a 50/50 Climate Project board member. “I can’t think of another regulated sector where investors would tolerate this type of high-risk negligence at the board level. There’s no reason to believe investors will continue to tolerate it in the energy sector.”

Spending Against Change” recommends several actions that investors can take as they engage energy and utility companies on climate change. These include seeking adoption of climate risk measures into board level governance structures; greater transparency around company actions to manage exposure to climate risk; and more transparent disclosure of all types of election spending and lobbying at all levels of government. 

The full report, Spending Against Change, is available on the 50/50 Climate Project’s website.

Take Action: Be sure to review Table 16: Shareholder Resolutions on Climate Change, Sustainability and Political Activity at Study Companies—Past Results and Upcoming 2018 Votes. Many proxy votes are coming up in April, May and June. The list is incomplete, so keep your eyes open. Most of these proposals deserve your support.

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