SEC Verdict on Climate Vote at Oil Driller Seen as ‘Out of Step’

A socially conscious investment firm managing $2.5 billion in assets is asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to rethink whether oil explorer EOG Resources Inc. can prevent shareholders from voting on setting a carbon-cutting goal.

Trillium Asset Management wants the commission to reconsider its decision to allow the company to bar the vote, it said in a March 7 letter seen by Bloomberg Law. The move is “out of step” with the recent groundswell of shareholder support for corporate climate action, the group said. Such reconsideration requests are extremely rare and usually aren’t granted.

The SEC’s staff decided that Trillium was trying to micromanage EOG by seeking to put a proposal for a carbon target on its ballot.

“We’re seeing [an] enormous amount of mainstream investor interest in how companies are addressing climate change,” said Jonas Kron, who leads Trillium’s shareholder advocacy. Top asset managers such as BlackRock Inc. and Vanguard Group joined other investors last year to help pass climate-related proposals at Exxon Mobil Corp. and Occidental Petroleum Corp. for the first time.

Climate change is likely to remain a hot topic for investors this year, according to proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. ISS is tracking 70 climate-related submissions from shareholders so far and expects that number to climb as more companies announce their annual meetings.

Rare Request

“In that sense, I think the decision really flies in the face of market realities,” Kron told Bloomberg Law. The SEC’s decision could also call into question similar proposals asking other companies to set climate targets, his letter said.

An SEC spokesman declined to comment on whether the agency would take up Trillium’s reconsideration request. Investors have asked for a second look in less than 1 percent of staff decisions on shareholder proposals since 2014, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Law. Less than one-quarter of those requests were granted.

EOG said it doesn’t comment on matters pending at the commission. The Houston-based company had told the commission that Trillium’s proposal for quantitative carbon goals would “conflict with” and “encroach on” management decisions, including how much and where to drill for oil and natural gas.

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