Cowell steps up pressure on Duke Energy over coal ash before shareholder meeting
Posted April 30
Raleigh, N.C. — One day before Duke Energy holds its annual shareholder meeting, North Carolina Treasurer Janet Cowell is adding her voice to the chorus of major investors calling for more information from the Charlotte-based utility about the February coal ash spill in the Dan River.
North Carolina's pension fund owns about $30 million in Duke stock and has a vested interest the company's ability to get a handle on how the spill happened and how to move forward from it, Blake Thomas, assistant general counsel for the State Treasurer's Office, told Duke director Philip Sharp in a letter Wednesday.
Sharp is the chairman of the Regulatory Policy and Operations Committee of Duke's board of directors and is likely to face some pointed questions Thursday from shareholders about the spill and the company's response. The meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. in Charlotte.
"We urge the Duke Energy board of directors to commission an independent firm to investigate the circumstances and decisions that played a role in the Dan River spill," Thomas wrote in the letter. "Although Duke Energy is being evaluated today by various federal and state governmental bodies, none of those organizations will be focused on ways to improve corporate governance or management practices. Independent internal investigations have unique aspects that can help teach companies how to better run their business."
A number of other major investors first called for an outside investigation of the spill in March.
Thomas said the North Carolina pension fund also would vote to remove Duke director Carlos Saladrigas from the Regulatory Policy and Operations Committee. Although the letter doesn't blame Saladrigas for the spill, it notes that he is the only director up for re-election "who had more than a few weeks of service on that committee before the coal ash spill."
Also, Thomas said, the committee needs to have directors with more experience in environmental cleanup and coal operations to help Duke chart a course for dealing with its other ash ponds.
North Carolina lawmakers are expected to push for legislation this year requiring Duke to clean up dozens of ash ponds around the state.