Senators write to BlackRock, State Street etc. over Marathon Petroleum lobbying on climate change

Major US institutional investors face political pressure on shareholding in “anti-climate” firm

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BlackRock, JPMorgan Chase, State Street and Vanguard are facing political pressure to tackle “anti-climate” lobbying by oil and gas giant Marathon Petroleum. 

Democratic senators Sheldon Whitehouse, Brian Schatz and Martin Heinrich have pressed the US financial giants in a letter that highlights, “Marathon’s relentless lobbying against climate action, particularly its efforts to unwind fuel efficiency standards for automobiles”. 

Marathon Petroleum is the largest oil refiner in the United States with over 10,000 gas and oil stations around the country. 

According to Rhode Island’s Whitehouse, it is a “big company with a big stake in blocking climate action”. 

In a speech last year he said: “Its annual report, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, makes one thing clear: Marathon sees laws and regulations that reduce carbon pollution as a threat.”

Whitehouse continued that Marathon is a “ringleader” behind blocking fuel-efficient standards in the US, accusing it of covertly lobbying politicians. A New York Times investigation exposed the alleged activity in 2018. 

Whitehouse’s speech also criticised Marathon’s largest shareholders, who own roughly 25% of the S&P 500 firm. 

Now, Whitehouse, Schatz and Heinrich have written to BlackRock, JP Morgan Chase, State Street and Vanguard, asking them what they know about Marathon’s anti-climate lobbying efforts, and asking them to use their clout to engage on the issue.

"You have a powerful share of this company’s stock, and whether or not the Marathon board and management informed you of these activities bears scrutiny"

BlackRock recently made headlines for its pledges on climate change featured in CEO Larry Fink’s famed annual letter. JPMorgan Chase, Vanguard and State Street all speak to climate risk to varying degrees. But all have been criticised for not going far enough. 

The senators say: “Given your company’s stated commitment to support of climate action and your concern about climate-related economic risks, we urge you use your position as one of Marathon’s largest shareholders to discuss why its current strategy of fiercely lobbying against efforts to limit carbon pollution is mistaken.”

They add: “We are also interested in what you knew about Marathon’s political behaviour in these areas. You have a powerful share of this company’s stock, and whether or not the Marathon board and management informed you of these activities bears scrutiny.”

BlackRock, JPMorgan Chase and Vanguard did not respond to requests for comment. 

State Street said it does not specifically comment on company engagements. It comes as State Street Global Advisors has said it plans to start voting against the boards of large companies that lag behind on ESG standards.

In a statement, Marathon said: “Our shareholders are aware of our efforts to diversify our portfolio, including our substantial investments in biofuels.”

It cited its “long track record of continually improving the environmental performance” of its operations.

Marathon added: “We were the first independent refiner in the nation to publish a report in compliance with recommendations from the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), and we published our third Perspectives on Climate-Related Scenarios report in October.”

It comes as US presidential challenger Elizabeth Warren has written to the eight biggest US banks asking them how they plan to mitigate climate change risks. 

Last year, Senator Warren reintroduced the Climate Risk Disclosure Act requiring public company reporting on climate change, and co-sponsored the Climate Change Financial Risk Act that would require the Federal Reserve to conduct climate stress tests.