RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina's public pension funds, which own a piece of Duke Energy, will use their influence to try to force Duke's board of directors to bring in new blood and improve oversight of the cleanup of a massive coal ash spill that coated 70 miles of a river with toxic sludge, state Treasurer Janet Cowell said Wednesday.
Cowell will vote shares held by state pension funds against Duke Energy director Carlos Saladrigas' re-election on Thursday to force change on the board coping with the spill's aftermath, she said in a letter to the company.
The retirement of two directors after Thursday's company shareholder meeting and Saladrigas' failed re-election would create three vacancies on the board of directors' committee overseeing company operations, Cowell said. Saladrigas is the only member of the committee up for re-election and who had served on it for more than a few weeks before the coal ash spill, Cowell wrote.
"The coal ash spill reflects not only on the performance of the company's management, but also its board," Cowell said. "We urge that Duke Energy appoint a replacement board member who has specific experience with environmental cleanup management."
North Carolina's pension funds own 468,000 shares of common stock, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of outstanding shares in the country's largest electric company, Cowell spokesman Schorr Johnson said.
California and New York City pension funds managers are among the disgruntled institutional investors who have urged shareholders to reject four board members.
Duke Energy has pushed back, saying the February spill on the Dan River has the full attention of all directors and that managing coal ash has been a priority for the board and its operations committee for some time.
Cowell also asked that Duke's directors launch an independent investigation into the coal ash spill, adding her support to a cause raised in March by a coalition more than 20 large investors including state treasurers in Connecticut, Oregon and Pennsylvania, the Illinois State Board of Investment and California State Teachers' Retirement System. The group has characterized the company's response to the environmental disaster as inadequate.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at https://twitter.com/emerydalesio.