RALEIGH, N.C. — Duke Energy shareholders called on the company's board on Thursday to launch an independent investigation into issues surrounding a massive coal ash spill that coated 70 miles of a North Carolina river in toxic sludge.
A letter sent to Duke's board of directors by a coalition of more than 20 large institutional investors says their confidence has been shaken by the Feb. 2 Dan River spill. The letter also expresses concern about an ongoing federal criminal probe and what the investors characterize as the company's inadequate response to the environmental disaster.
Duke Energy serves much of west-central Florida since its 2012 merger with Progress Energy, which made Duke the country's largest power company.
Federal prosecutors have issued at least 23 subpoenas as part of a grand jury investigation into the spill and whether the company has received preferential treatment from state officials. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory worked at Duke for more than 28 years, and the company and its executives have been generous political supporters of his campaign and Republican groups that support him.
Citing a provision in the company's charter, the investors demand an initial report from the board at an annual shareholders meeting scheduled for May 1.
The group is made up of directors of big investment funds and pension plans that hold Duke stock, including state treasurers in Connecticut, Oregon and Pennsylvania, as well as the Illinois State Board of Investment and California State Teachers' Retirement System.
"In the wake of this catastrophic spill, shareholders are demanding answers and action," said Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler. "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."
Duke faces hundreds of millions in cleanup costs from the spill, and political pressure has been building on the company to move 33 coal ash dumps away from lakes and rivers in North Carolina. That could potentially cost the company billions more.
The ash, a byproduct left after coal is burned to generate electricity, contains toxic chemicals including arsenic, lead and mercury.
Duke spokesman Tom Williams said Thursday that the company has already engaged independent engineering experts to perform a comprehensive assessment of all of its ash dumps. That review will be completed by May 31, he said.
In the past month, North Carolina regulators have issued eight environmental violations against Duke for the Dan River spill and issues at several of its other facilities.