Fossil fuel CEOs earn annual cash bonuses for environmental ‘excellence’

It was the worst oil spill Marathon Petroleum had seen in years. A crack in a 60-year-old underground pipeline launched 1,400 barrels of diesel gas into an Indiana creek, staining the banks of the waterway and threatening a inhabitants of endangered freshwater mussels.

The incident barely registered, nonetheless, within the efficiency critiques of Marathon’s high executives, who earn a part of their annual bonus by assembly environmental objectives. As a result of these critiques account for the corporate’s quantity of serious oil spills in a 12 months — not the overall quantity of oil — the Indiana spill counted as simply one among 23 incidents in 2018.

The best way Marathon evaluated its executives, 2018 was the corporate’s finest environmental efficiency in a minimum of eight years. The board of administrators awarded chief govt Gary Heminger $272,251 for “excellence in environmental, private security and course of security enchancment.”

Lots of the largest fossil gas corporations reward high executives for assembly environmental objectives, a compensation tactic they adopted over the previous twenty years as a response to regulators and traders involved with air pollution and employee security.

However the way in which a few of these incentive applications are designed permits corporations to award executives their full bonuses even in years when the companies trigger main environmental injury or whole emissions go up, in line with a evaluation of pay disclosures from six of the most important U.S. oil and fuel corporations and interviews with specialists in compensation and environmental knowledge.

4 of the businesses — Chevron, Valero, Phillips 66 and Occidental Petroleum — have by no means missed their environmental targets in all of the years they’ve publicly disclosed such objectives, filings present. And but, researchers who research environmental knowledge for MSCI, an funding analytics agency, stated three of the businesses — Valero, Phillips 66 and Occidental — nonetheless lag behind the business common for lowering poisonous emissions, carbon emissions or each.

Marathon, which solely missed its environmental targets as soon as previously decade, was rated common for poisonous emissions and carbon emissions amongst oil and fuel refining corporations reviewed by MSCI.

“Once you meet the metrics yearly, that implies that the metrics haven’t been sufficiently difficult,” stated Rosanna Landis Weaver, govt pay program supervisor for As You Sow, a nonprofit group backed by basis grants and particular person donors that advocates for company social duty.

In some circumstances, specialists say, corporations are utilizing metrics that don’t present a full image. Marathon’s deal with the variety of environmental incidents throughout all of its operations means “very poor efficiency at one or two websites” — reminiscent of a big oil spill — “may be diluted by outperformance at different amenities,” Trillium Asset Administration, an investor in Marathon that pressures corporations to enhance their social, governance and environmental practices, stated in a letter to the corporate’s shareholders final 12 months.

In emailed responses to questions, Marathon spokesman Jamal Kheiry stated the corporate makes use of incentives to “measure the effectiveness of our environmental administration system, and drive steady enchancment in environmental stewardship.”

One other oil big, Occidental Petroleum, has given bonuses to executives for investing in carbon-capture tasks whilst the corporate’s whole carbon emissions have gone up, filings and firm emissions knowledge present.

Occidental spokesman Eric Moses stated the corporate has pledged to eradicate carbon emissions by 2050 and would quickly start evaluating executives on progress towards that aim. The carbon seize tasks will “assist each Occidental and companies in different business sectors to attain shared net-zero objectives.”

Lillian Riojas, a spokeswoman for Valero, stated the corporate has “been in a position to meet our environmental targets as a result of we now have made very vital progress during the last decade” in areas together with security and poisonous air emissions.

Chevron spokesman Sean Comey stated the corporate’s board has up to date its annual bonus program thrice previously three years so as to add incentives for lowering methane flaring, greenhouse fuel emissions and investments in carbon offsetting.

Bernardo Fallas, a spokesman for Phillips 66, declined to remark.

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Critics say local weather objectives are often such a small portion of bonus plans that they’ve little affect over govt habits. When Shell made emission discount objectives 10 p.c of its govt bonus final 12 months, some environmentally minded traders opposed the plan, arguing that over 50 p.c of the annual bonus was nonetheless based mostly on rising the corporate’s manufacturing of fuel.

The pay package deal “encourages executives to chase greater ranges of fossil gas output,” stated Simon Rawson, a director at ShareAction, a United Kingdom-based nonprofit that works to advertise higher company habits and receives the vast majority of its funding by way of charitable grants.

Simon Rawson, a director at ShareAction, a United Kingdom-based nonprofit that works to promote better corporate behavior, sits outside at his residence in Brighton, England, on Sept. 4, 2021. Rawson says energy company boards have failed to hold executives accountable for substantive action on environmental issues.
Simon Rawson, a director at ShareAction, a United Kingdom-based nonprofit that works to advertise higher company habits, sits outdoors at his residence in Brighton, England, on Sept. 4, 2021. Rawson says power firm boards have failed to carry executives accountable for substantive motion on environmental points. (James Forde For The Washington Submit)

This 12 months, Shell stated it could make emission reductions a larger portion of annual bonus incentives and take away pure fuel manufacturing objectives fully. Anna Arata, a Shell spokeswoman, stated the pay packages of 16,500 workers partially depend upon assembly companywide short-term emission objectives.

The failure of some pay applications to advertise higher company habits highlights a scarcity of oversight by company boards of administrators, who approve govt pay at publicly traded corporations and are tasked with managing long-term dangers reminiscent of local weather change, Rawson stated. At the same time as many boards acknowledge this mandate — creating local weather committees and designating sustainability chairs — they’ve failed to carry executives accountable for actual motion on environmental points, he stated.

The power business’s expertise is a cautionary story for the broader enterprise world. Dozens of enormous corporations, together with Coca-Cola, Walmart, Ford Motor Co. and Procter & Gamble, have tied govt pay plans to environmental targets as they face strain from traders to mitigate local weather change, stated Mindy Lubber, chief govt of local weather advocacy group Ceres.

“CEOs do what they’re paid to do,” stated Lubber, whose Local weather Motion 100+ initiative pushes giant corporations to set carbon emission objectives and have a minimum of one senior govt’s pay tied to the corporate’s progress towards these emission objectives.

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However as proof from oil and fuel corporations exhibits, executives can rating extremely on environmental objectives even when their corporations have blended monitor information on the setting.

Throughout Heminger’s tenure as Marathon CEO, from 2011 to 2020, local weather advocates criticized the corporate for being gradual to undertake a carbon discount plan and for its position in orchestrating a Washington lobbying campaign geared toward loosening restrictions on car air pollution. Marathon says it was advocating for a evaluation of the “feasibility” of present car air pollution requirements and by no means took a place on whether or not modifications to these requirements have been wanted.

Air pollution at Marathon refineries led to Clear Air Act violations and congressional scrutiny over poisonous air emissions at a Detroit refinery, the place native residents have complained for years concerning the facility’s launch of poisonous chemical substances which they imagine contribute to a excessive price of respiratory sickness of their neighborhood.

In Marathon’s annual pay disclosures, Heminger is credited with assembly or surpassing environmental targets throughout 9 of his 10 years as CEO. He earned a complete of $1.9 million for assembly these objectives, together with added payouts for exceeding expectations in 5 of these years, a Submit evaluation of power firm bonuses exhibits.

Heminger, who retired final 12 months, declined to remark.

Marathon’s bonus system was questioned final 12 months by Trillium Asset Administration, which noticed a disconnect between the way in which executives have been rewarded and the way in which firm amenities had harmed communities in locations like Detroit. The investor asked Marathon to publish a report exploring the way it might higher incorporate neighborhood considerations into its bonus system.

In a proxy filing, Marathon’s board opposed the measure, saying not like its present, quantifiable metrics, neighborhood considerations “could be tough to measure and audit.” The board stated it had the facility “to cut back or fully eradicate awards” if it finds “our efficiency in any space, together with our affect on the communities the place we stay and function, has been unsatisfactory.”

Trillium has since offered its shares in Marathon, stated Jonas Kron, Trillium’s chief advocacy officer.

Beneath its bonus system, Marathon classifies all spills, air emissions, allow violations and regulatory actions into 4 tiers, based mostly on their severity, and solely counts probably the most extreme incidents within the annual bonus plan. Oil spills, for instance, are solely counted in the event that they launch 10 or extra barrels into water or 100 or extra barrels onto land.

By this measure, the corporate has been pretty constant: Yearly from 2013 to 2019, the corporate skilled one or two pipeline oil spills of over 100 barrels, in line with knowledge from the Pipeline and Hazardous Supplies Security Administration.

However these numbers fail to account for the bigger affect of spills just like the one at Indiana’s Large Creek — on the time, Marathon’s largest pipeline spill by quantity in seven years. Marathon despatched round 80 responders to scrub up the location, in line with Kevin Turner, an on-scene coordinator with the Environmental Safety Company, and agreed to fund an effort to propagate the mussel inhabitants.

The release of 1,400 barrels of diesel fuel into an Indiana waterway in 2018 was Marathon Petroleum’s worst spill in several years. It involved a crack in a 60-year-old underground pipeline.
The discharge of 1,400 barrels of diesel gas into an Indiana waterway in 2018 was Marathon Petroleum’s worst spill in a number of years. It concerned a crack in a 60-year-old underground pipeline. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Kheiry, the Marathon spokesman, stated the corporate regularly updates its know-how and procedures to stop oil spills and that this spill represented an “unanticipated danger” as a result of it was attributable to financial institution collapse, which often doesn’t occur on flat terrain. The corporate recovered many of the spilled oil and cleaned up the banks of the creek. He stated one hen died on account of the spill and “there isn’t a proof that mussels have been impacted.” He added that Marathon does attempt to account for the severity of incidents through the use of its tier system; the Indiana oil spill counted within the highest tier.

As a result of Marathon has grown its operations, it’s onerous to evaluate whether or not the corporate has decreased its general environmental hurt. In 4 completely different years, Marathon counted the next variety of environmental incidents than the 12 months earlier than, however Heminger bought his full environmental bonus anyway, as a result of the board set greater limits for the variety of incidents these years.

Marathon’s Kheiry stated the corporate has grown considerably over the previous decade, together with with its acquisition of oil refining rival Andeavor, in 2018. As a result of it has extra pipelines, refineries, fuel processing crops and different amenities, the corporate is uncovered to extra environmental danger, and subsequently its board typically raises the boundaries, Kheiry stated.

“We imagine our report of lowering incidents at newly acquired belongings and sustaining superior efficiency at our present belongings exhibits that the [compensation] program has been successful,” Kheiry stated.

Marathon says its environmental metrics are checked by its inner auditing group however should not reviewed by any unbiased third get together.

Among the individuals who stay close to Marathon’s Detroit refinery say air air pollution stays an ongoing downside of their neighborhood. Vicki Dobbins, who lives blocks away from the refinery, says her neighborhood nonetheless smells like “outdated rubbish” because of fuel emissions.

Vicki Dobbins said her neighborhood, not far from Marathon's Detroit refinery, still smells like “old garbage” two years after toxic emissions at the facility.
Vicki Dobbins stated her neighborhood, not removed from Marathon’s Detroit refinery, nonetheless smells like “outdated rubbish” two years after poisonous emissions on the facility. (Ali Lapetina For The Washington Submit)

“You may typically trip by way of right here and the air is so sturdy it’s important to maintain your breath,” Dobbins stated.

After a launch of poisonous air emissions on the refinery in 2019, dozens of residents referred to as native well being officers to complain of a noxious fuel affecting their respiratory, in line with the Michigan Division of Atmosphere, Nice Lakes, and Vitality, which cited the corporate for inflicting a nuisance. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) convened a subject listening to in Detroit and the Home Committee on Oversight and Reform asked the EPA to research the issue of chemical leaks on the refinery.

Earlier this 12 months, Marathon settled with Michigan over 10 completely different environmental violations masking a number of incidents from the previous 4 years, agreeing to take new precautions together with a neighborhood air quality website seen to the general public. Tim Carroll, an EPA spokesman, stated the company carried out an inspection of the refinery in July of this 12 months and “will share extra details about it when it turns into publicly out there.”

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Marathon, citing data from Michigan’s state air pollution database, stated air emissions on the Detroit facility have declined 80 p.c over the previous 20 years, and stated the overwhelming majority of air pollution in that space of town are actually generated by different neighboring industrial amenities, reminiscent of metal and car crops and a sewage therapy middle.

The corporate says it’s working with residents of southwest Detroit. As a part of its settlement, Marathon agreed to put in a brand new air filtration system at a public pre-k-8 college lower than a mile from the refinery. Marathon says it additionally put aside $5 million this 12 months to purchase the houses of some residents who need out.

As part of a settlement, Marathon has agreed to install a new air filtration system at the Mark Twain School for Scholars, a public school in Detroit less than a mile from the company’s refinery.
As a part of a settlement, Marathon has agreed to put in a brand new air filtration system on the Mark Twain Faculty for Students, a public college in Detroit lower than a mile from the corporate’s refinery. (Ali Lapetina For The Washington Submit)


The specter of local weather change has compelled many corporations to rethink their pay practices. Traders are pushing power giants to transcend air pollution objectives and incorporate carbon emission targets into CEO pay, claiming which may be the easiest way to encourage executives to take the drastic actions mandatory to satisfy long-term carbon discount objectives.

The problem, says U.Ok. researcher Dario Kenner, is that oil executives are already hardwired to develop income and income from fossil fuels, which frequently means producing extra carbon emissions. Kenner, who researches wealth and local weather change, co-authored a study this 12 months that discovered executives of BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell all have sturdy private incentives to delay vital carbon lowering measures.

Whereas Marathon, Occidental, Chevron and Valero all started linking govt bonuses to carbon emission objectives throughout the previous two years, these corporations all nonetheless incentivize executives to develop monetary or manufacturing metrics, reminiscent of earnings, money circulate or whole oil manufacturing, filings present.

“In case you have large chunky metrics which are linked to manufacturing and development, that’s going to drive govt habits,” says ShareAction’s Rawson, who helped lead the opposition to Shell’s pay applications final 12 months.

For the previous three years, Houston-based power big Occidental has rewarded CEO Vicki Hollub a complete of over $600,000 for assembly the corporate’s environmental, security and sustainability objectives, the Submit evaluation of bonuses exhibits. These objectives inspired Hollub to make investments in carbon seize applied sciences, which the corporate described as “an essential function of Occidental’s technique to cut back its greenhouse fuel emissions whereas rising its enterprise.”

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However scientists say capturing carbon is energy-intensive and never but contributing to a significant discount in carbon emissions. Reasonably than lowering its emissions, Occidental’s whole carbon emissions from its direct operations grew by 30 p.c from 2017 to 2019, in line with firm data.

The corporate’s efforts in carbon seize “haven’t but translated into quantitative proof by way of general enchancment within the firm’s efficiency for carbon emissions,” stated Antonios Panagiotopoulos, a vp at MSCI.

Moses, the Occidental spokesman, says its emissions numbers mirror a rise because of its 2019 acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum.

Steven Mufson contributed to this report. | Fossil gas CEOs earn annual money bonuses for environmental ‘excellence’


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