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Royal Dutch Shell said it's quitting a major lobbying group, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers. Photo: Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

These are split-screen times for shareholder advocates pushing the world's most powerful oil companies to do more on global warming.

Driving the news: Axios' Amy Harder reported yesterday that the SEC granted ExxonMobil's request to throw out a shareholder resolution urging the oil giant to disclose targets for steeply cutting emissions.

The intrigue: Her story landed just hours after Royal Dutch Shell said it's quitting a major lobbying group, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, over differences on climate policy.

  • It's a move stemming from a review of trade group memberships, which Shell agreed to conduct in a wider agreement with activist investors late last year.

The bottom line: The developments highlight successes and hurdles facing activists seeking to use investors' stakes as leverage to force more aggressive steps on emissions and disclosure.

What's next: In the Exxon fight, the group shareholder advocacy group Ceres said yesterday evening that they're looking at several options after the SEC decision.

What they're saying: Ceres' Andrew Logan said in a statement that the investors behind the resolution will "make full use of their suite of rights." In a followup email, he told me they are mulling options, including...

  • Asking the SEC for reconsideration or even taking them to court.
  • Corralling support behind other proposals on the ballot for Exxon's annual meeting, such as one pushing for a climate committee on the board.
  • "Expressing displeasure" with Exxon's board by voting against re-election of one or more members.
  • Nominating alternative director candidates in 2020.

The big picture: Let's turn back to Shell's action. There's an argument that yesterday's splashy move really just affirmed the status quo.

  • Yes, sure, they dumped one trade group, but stuck with bigger ones — including the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — that aren't that different from AFPM on climate policy.

But, but, but: Jason Bordoff, head of a Columbia University energy think tank, said via Twitter that Shell's move is "just the beginning" and that he sees it spilling over into API, the industry's main lobbying group.

  • "The differences among API members on the key issue of climate are vast. That's going to reach a breaking point," he tweeted.
  • I asked Bordoff to elaborate, and he added in an email, "I think API is going to have increasing difficulty sustaining its coalition in its current form unless it is able to build more consensus among its members about what a constructive role for the oil and gas industry looks like to address climate change."

Go deeper: SEC throws out investor proposal pushing Exxon on climate change

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
1 hour ago - Technology

Scoop: Google is investigating the actions of another top AI ethicist

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Photo by Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Google is investigating recent actions by Margaret Mitchell, who helps lead the company's ethical AI team, Axios has confirmed.

Why it matters: The probe follows the forced exit of Timnit Gebru, a prominent researcher also on the AI ethics team at Google whose ouster ignited a firestorm among Google employees.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Joe Biden's COVID-19 bubble

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The incoming administration is planning extraordinary steps to protect its most prized commodity, Joe Biden, including requiring daily employee COVID tests and N95 masks at all times, according to new guidance sent to some incoming employees Tuesday.

Why it matters: The president-elect is 78 years old and therefore a high risk for the virus and its worst effects, despite having received the vaccine. While President Trump's team was nonchalant about COVID protocols — leading to several super-spreader episodes — the new rules will apply to all White House aides in "high proximity to principals."

Justice Department drops insider trading inquiry against Sen. Richard Burr

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) walking through the Senate Subway in the U.S. Capitol in December 2020. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

The Department of Justice told Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) on Tuesday that it will not move forward with insider trading charges against him.

Why it matters: The decision, first reported by the New York Times, effectively ends the DOJ's investigation into the senator's stock sell-off that occurred after multiple lawmakers were briefed about the coronavirus' potential economic toll. Burr subsequently stepped down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.