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Rockefeller Family Fund hits Exxon, divests from fossil fuels

By Terry Wade and Anna Driver
A sign is seen at the entrance of the Exxonmobil Port Allen Lubricants Plant in Port Allen, Louisiana, November 6, 2015. REUTERS/Lee Celano

By Terry Wade and Anna Driver

HOUSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Rockefeller Family Fund said on Wednesday it will divest from fossil fuels as quickly as possible and "eliminate holdings" of Exxon Mobil Corp <XOM.N>, saying the oil company associated with the family fortune has misled the public about climate change risks.

Though only a sliver of the endowment's modest $130 million in assets is invested in fossil fuels, the move is notable because a century ago John D. Rockefeller Sr. made a fortune running Standard Oil, a precursor to Exxon Mobil. The charity said it will also divest from coal and Canadian oil sands.

Given the threat posed to the survival of human and natural ecosystems, "there is no sane rationale for companies to continue to explore for new sources of hydrocarbons," the Rockefeller Family Fund said.

In a letter posted on its website, the fund said Exxon's conduct on climate issues appears to be "morally reprehensible."

Asked about the Rockefeller announcement, Exxon said in a statement: "It's not surprising that they're divesting from the company."

"The Rockefeller Family Fund provided financial support to InsideClimate News and Columbia University Journalism School which produced inaccurate and deliberately misleading stories about ExxonMobil’s history of climate research," Exxon added.

A Rockefeller Family Fund representative was not immediately available to respond.

Last year, after publication of the stories that Exxon mentioned, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an investigation into whether the company misled the public and shareholders about the risks of climate change.

On Wednesday, Exxon said those stories "wrongly suggested that we had reached definitive conclusions about the risks of climate change decades before the world’s experts and while climate science was in an early stage of development."

The company said it believes the threat of climate change is clear and warrants action.

In response to the divestment movement, many oil industry leaders have said millions of people in the developing world would be condemned to darkness and poverty if society were to halt the burning of fossil fuels before there is ample supply of cleaner energy sources.

As early as 2008, members of the Rockefeller family called on Exxon to make governance changes and increase spending on alternative fuels.

In late 2014, another fund associated with the family, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), and several other philanthropies said they would divest from fossil fuels.

Shares of Exxon fell 0.4 percent to $83.75 on Wednesday as U.S. oil prices slipped 4 percent.


(Reporting By Terry Wade and Anna Driver; Editing by David Gregorio; Editing by David Gregorio)