Duke shareholders call for probe of coal ash problems
Posted March 27, 2014
Charlotte, N.C. — Major shareholders of Duke Energy Corp. have called on the company's board of directors to launch an independent investigation into last month's coal ash spill in the Dan River from a retired Duke plant near Eden.
“Duke’s recent environmental problems suggest serious lapses in oversight, as well as failures in risk management by the board of directors, and are a substantial concern for investors,” Bill Dempsey, senior vice president of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, which is spearheading the investor move, said in a statement.
Other Duke investors joining in the effort include pension funds in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Oregon and Pennsylvania, the Service Employees International Union and investment funds Calvert Investments and Trillium Asset Management.
The group sent a letter Thursday to the Regulatory Policy and Operations Committee of Duke's board to review the circumstances around the Feb. 2 spill, which fouled 70 miles of the Dan River with toxic sludge, and whether utility's policies and procedures can prevent future spills.
State environmental regulators have since cited Duke for lacking the proper permits at several of its coal-fired power plants in North Carolina and for illegally dumping wastewater from a coal ash pond in Chatham County into a tributary of the Cape Fear River.
Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources John Skvarla recently criticized Duke for not providing specifics on how it plans to handle the ash in more than 30 ash ponds across the state, and he has requested that a judge scotch a proposed settlement between DENR and Duke on ash ponds at two sites.
A federal grand jury also is investigating any financial ties between Duke and regulators.
"These events, and Duke’s response to them, have shaken investors' confidence in Duke and its Board," the shareholder letter states. "In spite of the continuing flurry of news accounts, we are unaware of any action taken by the Board to address these serious issues."
The investors want a four-part investigation and a status report at the company's May 1 annual meeting. In addition to the spill and conditions at Duke's other coal ash ponds, they want investigators to look at the allegations under review by the grand jury and legislative lobbying and political activities regarding regulatory and enforcement efforts at the company’s coal ash facilities. They also want a list of recommendations to ensure the company is in compliance with current regulations and best practices regarding its handling of coal ash.
"As the owners of public corporations, shareholders expect companies to do business the right way, which will bolster public confidence, sustain the environment and enhance long-term share value," Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler said in a statement.