By John Downey
N.C. State Treasurer Janet Cowell says the state, as a Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) shareholder, will vote against the re-election of a Duke board member in response to the Dan River coal ash spill.
She has also called on the Duke board to “conduct an independent investigation of the corporate decisions that led to the Dan River spill.” And she wants Charlotte-based Duke to add a “board member who has specific experience with environmental cleanup management.”
The state owns about 400,000 shares of Duke’s stock. The company has 710 million outstanding shares.
Duke stands by its recommendation that shareholders re-elect all current board members standing for re-election. It declined to make a direct comment beyond the responses it already made to other shareholders on issues surrounding the Dan River spill.
Those other shareholders include the California Public Employee Retirement System and the New York City Comptroller, who called for shareholders to vote against four current board members, and investors led by the Nathan Cummings Foundation, which asked for an independent board investigation of the spill.
On Feb. 2, a stormwater pipe running under the main coal ash pond at Duke’s Dan River Steam Station near Eden broke. The accident spewed up to 39,000 tons of coal ash into the river. It has led state regulators to accuse Duke of violating state wastewater statutes. A federal grand jury is investigating Duke for potential criminal culpability for the spill and probing the relationship between Duke and state regulators.
Cowell informed Duke of her plans in a letter written by her office’s assistant general counsel, Blake Thomas, and sent Wednesday to Duke board member Phillip Sharp.
Sharp heads the board’s Regulatory Policy and Operations Committee, which oversees environmental issues and operations such as coal ash storage.
The annual shareholders meeting, which includes the election of board members, will be held Thursday in Charlotte.
“In the Treasurer’s view, to maximize shareholder value, the Duke Energy board must change to respond to the coal ash spill,” Thomas wrote.
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