You have to be feeling pretty good about your new position heading the world’s largest oil and gas company. You stand astride the globe where, with few exceptions, the Congress is like putty in your hands, the White House is your House and the consuming public is powerless. Governments in the Third World may huff and puff, but Exxon/Mobil pretty much gets its way in dozens of arrangements completed and about to be concluded.
Seven years ago, your predecessor, Lee Raymond, took over Exxon’s main competitor, Mobil Oil Company, through a merger approved by the misnamed Antitrust Division of the Justice Department. Really, what is left of antitrust standards when the number one and number two companies in an industry are permitted to marry?
Profits of your company are beyond your dreams of avarice. Over $36 billion last year, after modest taxes, yet you blithely ignored urgent pleas by members of Congress, especially that of the powerful Chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley (Rep. Iowa) to contribute some significant deductible money to charities which help impoverished American families pay the exorbitant prices for heating oil this past winter. Rarely has there been such a demonstration of corporate greed and insensitivity by a company that has received huge government welfare subsidies, de-regulation and tax expenditures over the years at the expense of the smaller taxpayers of America.
Exxon/Mobil even relishes the latest “Big Oil’s Big Windfall,” to use the phrase in a recent New York Times editorial, which wrote that “oil companies stand to gain a minimum of $7 billion and as much as $28 billion over the next five years under an obscure provision in last year’s giant energy bill that allows companies to avoid paying royalties [to Uncle Sam] on oil and gas produced in the Gulf of Mexico. This welfare payment at a time of record crude oil, refined oil and natural gas prices appears too much even for one of your industry’s giants. A Shell official told the New York Times reporter, Edmund L. Andrews, “Under the current environment, we don’t need royalty relief.”
Exxon/Mobil doesn’t feel any need to say something like that. You’re a corporate superpower at the pinnacle of your superpowers. No Ida Tarbell, no Fred Cook, no Senator Phil Hart, no Sixty Minutes program can effectively expose you, because the company has been exposed and exposed and nothing changes your corporate policies.
Unchanged is Exxon/Mobil’s stubborn refusal to pay the modest $5 billion punitive damage award following the Exxon Valdez oil spill that damaged or put so many small businesses out of business. They are still waiting, according to a recent network television expose. Last year your company made that much post-tax profits in about seven weeks. After the devastating spill in Alaskan waters, your gasoline prices rose sharply in California and you made money there. And your delay for 12 years resisting the court ordered payout by legal maneuvers has returned in interest on that award about that amount. Not that many years ago, a company in your mega-profitable position would have considered the public relations if not the simple justice benefits before dragging on the proceedings. Not so, with the impregnable Exxon/Mobil.
While BP and Shell move to build and talk about a solar power business, including wind power, you continue to parade that window dressing pittance of a project at Stanford University that is going nowhere. Your company is still seen as a resistant skeptic among a swarm of multinational companies including BP, that recognize Global Warming and its direct fossil fuel connections.
To make matters worse, Exxon/Mobil has funded over three dozen organizations to undermine scientific findings about global warming or as front groups to engage in obstructionist or harassment activities.
These and other derelictions have led environmental groups to urge a boycott (See exposeexxon.com) of Exxon/Mobil products and employment refusals by university graduates. Only company insiders know how effective such a boycott has been at the gasoline pump and elsewhere. My guess is that you’re shrugging it off as inconsequential. The boycott clearly needs more imagination in getting its message out.
The lessons of history teach that the arrogance of corporate power eventually meets its match, either through the decay of internal hubris or the rise of public law enforcement or from private challenges—innovative, civic or competitive.
Remember, the awesome power and market position of General Motors years ago, or the dominance of IBM. When you’re on top is when you should be most alert to the misuses of power that are sowing the seeds of future decline. The mean-spirited image of your company, the stinginess of transferring some of your corporate welfare windfalls to the welfare of millions of shivering children and their penurious parents are upsetting even Republican members of Congress hearing from their indignant constituents about sky high fuel prices.
So observers of your company—official and regular people—will be waiting for signs of the post-Raymond, clenched jaw era of Exxon/Mobil under the command of your group of executives. Let’s see if the change is just one of style or one of more sincere responses to the ways the approaching winds are blowing.