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Monday, July 15, 2024

Investors and activists demand an end to funding for lobby groups that oppose climate legislation

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Since the beginning of 2024, activist investors have filed at least 54 shareholder resolutions calling on companies to report their climate lobbying or political spending – including through trade associations — and how that lobbying aligns with the companies’ climate targets.

Since February, nearly 1,000 corporate and nonprofit sustainability professionals have signed a pledge, first presented at GreenBiz 24, to push their employers to lobby for pro-climate policies — and consider parting with trade groups that obstruct them. 

These demands highlight a longstanding contradiction: Many companies have pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, but they retain memberships in industrial lobby groups that block climate change policies.

One of the main targets of stakeholder demands is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country’s largest business organization, which has a long record of opposing climate legislation. In early June, a coalition of 50 climate-focused groups issued a letter to the Chamber’s member companies pointing to the misalignment of U.S. Chamber lobbying on federal climate policies with widely held climate goals among its members.

“We need climate policy progress in order for the private sector to achieve all the goals and targets they’ve set out for themselves,” said Deborah McNamara, executive director of Climate Voice. Policies such as tax incentives for clean energy investment and consistent emissions reporting standards help companies to achieve net zero. But some trade associations “are blocking that progress.”

Urging companies to leave the lobby groups they fund

The 975 professionals who signed the L.E.A.D. statement initiated by Climate Voice, founded by former Google and Facebook sustainability executive Bill Weihl (a contributor to GreenBiz), are asking companies to:

  • Leave associations that obstruct climate policies.
  • Elevate climate policy as a company priority.
  • Advocate publicly for effective binding climate policies.
  • Demonstrate real commitment to the collective action needed to achieve the just and equitable transition from fossil fuels agreed to at COP 28.

Shareholder votes are becoming harder to ignore

Overall, federal lobbying by corporations continues to rise, reaching $1.2 billion in the first quarter of 2024. 

A bar chart showing federal lobbying, in dollars, by year

On the investor side, pro-climate resolutions are racking up significant, if not majority, shareholder support. The 30 climate-related lobbying resolutions that have been voted on so far this year garnered an average of 26.7% shareholder support, based on results pulled from a Ceres database. Political spending resolutions, meanwhile, have won an average 30.3% vote in favor.

Support for these measures has reached a point where companies can no longer afford to ignore them. “As a general rule, U.S. shareholder resolutions with more than 30% support are considered a strong prompt for management action,” according to Lindsey Stewart, Morningstar’s director of stewardship and policy.

‘Increasingly material risks’

Two lobbying resolutions were flagged by Climate Action 100+, the largest investor-led coalition focused on climate, in its list of resolutions particularly worthy of investors’ consideration: 

  • A measure filed at NextEra Energy Inc. by CCLA Investment Management, Mercy Investment Services and Railpen won 32.5% of shareholders’ votes. 
  • Another, at PACCAR Inc. by Calvert Research & Management, won 29.3%.

“Corporate lobbying that is inconsistent with the Paris Agreement presents increasingly material risks to companies and their shareholders,” CCLA’s resolution at NextEra said. “Of particular concern are trade associations and other politically active organizations that say they speak for business but too often present forceful obstacles to addressing the climate crisis.”

Corporate lobbying that is inconsistent with the Paris Agreement presents increasingly material risks to companies and their shareholders

Restive bank investors

Bank shareholders were notably supportive of lobbying resolutions: 

  • At Truist Financial Corp, a resolution filed by John Chevedden, a prolific shareholder activist, seeking a report on lobbying won 41.2% of the shares voted.
  • A similar resolution at Bank of New York Mellon Corp won 38.4%.
  • At Goldman Sachs, the vote was 39.4% in favor. 
  • Shareholders at Wells Fargo faced three resolutions. Two of them received 36.1% and 25.3% in favor. A third, filed by Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment asking how the bank’s lobbying aligns with net zero goals, won 28%.

The 2024 proxy statements for all four banks state that management opposed the lobbying resolutions. “We already provide transparency and publish lobbying disclosures,” Truist Financial Corp explained in its proxy. ”Following our early 2022 announcement of a net-zero-greenhouse-gas-emissions goal by 2050, we developed a monitoring protocol to review the climate legislation, advocacy, and lobbying activity of the principal trade associations we support.” The bank concluded most “are aligned or partially aligned with our climate goals.”  

Still, four out of 10 shares were voted in disagreement.

The Chamber in the crosshairs

​The June letter to the U.S. Chamber cites the group’s opposition to the Inflation Reduction Act and the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules on methane, power plant emissions, and particulate air pollution. It also criticizes the Chamber’s lawsuit challenging the Securities and Exchange Commission’s new climate disclosure rule. Numerous shareholder resolutions also mentioned the Chamber’s lobbying against these policies.

The Chamber declined to comment on these issues,  pointing to existing position papers.

In a letter to Congress before the August 2022 vote on the Inflation Reduction Act, the Chamber argued that the legislation would impose “significant new tax increases and unprecedented government price controls that would deter investment, inhibit innovation and undermine economic growth.” 

Since then, the IRA has spurred upwards of $124 billion in private-sector investment in 316 projects. 

Chamber position paper on climate and energy provisions of the legislation states, “We can increase American energy production while still lowering emissions. In fact, boosting domestic oil and gas production will help reduce global reliance on foreign sources that have a more significant environmental footprint.” It was written by Martin Durbin, senior vice president for policy, who was previously the executive vice president of the American Petroleum Institute.

Unilever has left the Chamber

As concern about misalignment grows, a number of companies have begun moving away from the Chamber. Unilever left the Chamber several years ago and has begun reviewing its other association memberships, GreenBiz reported

An E&E study found that 37 corporate members of the U.S. Chamber have raised concerns about its climate positions in business filings, often in their carbon disclosure reports. 

Some, like Microsoft, are conducting audits of their associations’ lobbying. “The policy goals of Microsoft and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are generally in alignment,” wrote Microsoft in a recent report. “However, it should be noted that we do not always see eye to eye on climate policies.”

It cites as an example its own longtime reporting of Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions and its support of the SEC rule mandating such disclosure. It said it is hoping for increased collaboration and alignment from the Chamber going forward. 

[Supercharge your impact alongside other visionaries, experts and innovators leading the way to a regenerative future at VERGE 24, Oct. 29-31, San Jose.]

 



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