(Adds vote totals)
By Anna Driver
HOUSTON, May 27 (Reuters) - Shareholders of the top two U.S. oil companies on Wednesday rejected proposals to add directors with climate change expertise to their boards, but a measure passed at one, Chevron Corp, could give new power to minority investors with environmental concerns.
Proposals to add an independent director with expertise in climate change received the support of about 20 percent of shareholders at each company, according to preliminary tallies provided at Chevron’s annual meeting and that of Exxon Mobil Corp.
By contrast, an advisory proposal allowing Chevron shareholders with stakes of at least 3 percent to nominate independent directors passed. One at Exxon fell just short of approval.
Both companies had recommended against the measures and said in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that directors already had wide experience needed for the job.
Oil companies, while acknowledging the need to address climate change risks, have said it will take decades to develop technologies that economically capture carbon emissions.
In January, Europe’s Royal Dutch Shell Plc backed a measure from activist investors asking it to be more proactive about planning for climate change, and its chief executive has warned of rising temperatures.
Elizabeth Pearce, the state treasurer of Vermont, told the Exxon annual meeting of shareholders that issues related to greenhouse gas emissions and climate are of growing importance to investors.
“More and more treasurers and institutional investors are concerned about climate change,” said Pearce.
That was evident in the amount of support a measure providing proxy access to won at both companies. Those resolutions were sponsored by proponents of more board accountability on issues related to global warming.
A majority, or 55 percent of Chevron’s stock owners, voted in favor of a resolution to amend bylaws to allow shareholders owning 3 percent of the company to nominate outside directors. At Exxon, nearly half of the shares voted were in support of the proposal sponsored by New York City’s pension funds.
Minority investors could now use their newly-won proxy access to nominate people with environmental credentials to boards.
“Today’s historic victory at Chevron is a vote for accountable and climate-competent directors,” New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said in a statement.
Proposals related to proxy access have won majority support of shareholders at companies including ConocoPhillips and Apache Corp, where it was endorsed by the board of directors. (Additional reporting by Rory Carroll in San Ramon, California; Editing by Terry Wade and Steve Orlofsky)