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US SEC lets PNM block resolution seeking to include climate expert on board

The U.S. SEC gave PNM Resources Inc. permission to block a shareholder resolution that calls for the utility to nominate to its board at least one expert on climate change and environmental issues relevant to electricity generation and transmission.

In a March 22 no-action letter, agency staff agreed with PNM's argument that the company already is doing what the shareholder proposed.

"Based on the information you have presented, it appears that the company's practices compare favorably with the guidelines of the proposal and that the company has, therefore, substantially implemented the proposal," SEC Attorney-Adviser Eric Envall wrote. Accordingly, SEC staff will not recommend enforcement action to the commission if PNM omits the proposal.

In requesting permission to block the resolution, PNM argued that seven of its board members have significant environmental and sustainability expertise. The credentials of those board members include previously holding jobs at utilities that are active in renewables development; maintaining a leadership position at the Electric Power Research Institute; acting as the head of the environmental, safety and health programs at Sandia National Laboratories; and spending time as a utility regulator at the state and federal level.

But Andy Davis, who holds shares in the company including through subcustodian Walden Asset Management, argued that the board members PNM listed do not have the level of environmental expertise he envisioned when crafting the resolution.

"For PNM to argue that the current directors of the company are 'environmental experts' simply by virtue of their exposure to 'environmental' issues in the course of their careers is to render the word 'expert' meaningless," Davis wrote in a letter the SEC attached to the decision.

As of March 26, PNM had not announced the date of its annual shareholder meeting.

Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil Corp. reached a deal with As You Sow, which was acting on behalf of a shareholder, under which the company will report on plastic pollution in exchange for As You Sow withdrawing a related resolution. The SEC acknowledged the deal in a March 25 letter.

The resolution had asked Exxon to annually disclose any plastic pellets spills as well as related remediation policies and actions. Exxon is one of the world's largest chemical companies and, as a major petrochemical producer, operates facilities that manufacture plastic pellets the size of a pea — known as nurdles — that tend to break down into smaller particles in water, the resolution said. According to As You Sow, plastic pellets are estimated to be the second largest direct source of microplastic pollution to the ocean by weight.

As of March 26, the SEC had not published decisions on challenges Exxon Mobil filed regarding several other proposed environmental resolutions, including one on greenhouse gas emissions.