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DALLAS -- Simmering consumer fury over soaring gasoline prices and angst over Exxon Mobil Corp.'s environmental policies were expected to converge in Dallas on Wednesday when the company hosted its annual shareholders' meeting.
Reuters reports that the meeting -- a normally raucous affair teeming with protesters, angry shareholders and police officers -- was expected to draw more attention than usual this year.
Stung by gasoline prices that have topped $3 a gallon, consumer groups are accusing the world's largest publicly traded oil company of profiting off the backs of hapless motorists.
U.S. lawmakers have joined in the act and are threatening to impose special windfall taxes on the company's profits. Those profits totaled a handsome $36 billion last year -- the most profitable year ever for a U.S. company.
Fighting back against the barrage of criticism will be Rex Tillerson, who takes the podium for the first time as ExxonMobil's CEO.
For many, the annual meeting will be one of the first concrete indications of whether Tillerson will adopt a more conciliatory tone toward environmental and social groups than his acerbic predecessor, Lee Raymond, did.
Sharp-tongued and combative, Raymond, who retired at the end of 2005, had little patience for critics of Exxon's environmental and social policies.
According to Reuters, Tillerson so far has shown few signs of straying from Raymond's playbook on investment decisions, but, unlike his predecessor, has tried to reach out to the general public to explain the company’s business and its efforts to meet energy demand.
ExxonMobil has been part of a massive public relations offensive by the oil industry to soothe consumer anger and thwart government regulation.
Raymond remains in focus this year, even after his departure, thanks to his hefty compensation package. That included $49 million in pay last year and a $98.4 million lump-sum retirement payment, which set off a firestorm of criticism for being outsized.
The pay package was enough to prompt influential proxy services firm Institutional Shareholder Services to urge investors to withhold votes from four company directors. ExxonMobil disputed the criticism and is urging shareholders to support the board members.
Other shareholders, have jumped on the bandwagon. North Carolina State Treasurer Richard Moore on Tuesday said the North Carolina Retirement Systems, which holds nearly 11 million Exxon shares worth $662.6 million, would withhold its votes for five Exxon director nominees.
"As shareholders, we are outraged that executives are using soaring gas prices, which are hitting consumers at the pump, to fatten their own wallets," Moore said in a statement. "As an owner of the company, we would like to fire these directors for not doing their jobs and giving away our money."
As usual, the company will also come under fire over its controversial stance questioning the science behind global warming.
In the most recent salvo, a group of pension funds and institutional investors two weeks ago demanded a meeting with the company's board after accusing the company of failing to act on global warming concerns.