Public protests, angry shareholders, and even a federal investigation haven’t changed things at Duke Energy. Company shareholders re-elected the entire board of directors on Thursday at the company’s annual meeting, despite protests from some shareholders that the company leadership failed its duties leading up to and in the aftermath of a February spill, which poured millions of gallons of toxic coal ash across about 80 miles of Dan River, North Carolina.
Long-time shareholders from California Public Employee’s Retirement System and New York City Pension Funds had asked for a vote against four directors who were seeking re-election. In the letter, they said the directors “failed to fulfill their obligations of risk oversight as members of a committee overseeing health, safety, and environmental compliance at the company.”
“We intend to hold accountable those directors most responsible for these costly oversight failures,” NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer added to Bloomberg Businessweek.
The company has faced considerable criticism, and is now battling possible criminal complaints regarding its questionable environmental conduct. It was accused in a single month of violating eight different environmental regulations. Weeks following the Dan River, Duke illegally and deliberately dumped 61 million gallons of coal ash into the Cape Fear River. There have been two months of terrible press for Duke: Two coal-fired power plants may face renewed lawsuits and it came out that the company steered a state investigation into groundwater pollution.
Since the controversy, former Duke employee Gov. Pat McCrory quietly dumped his stock in Duke Energy. Although a spokesman claimed “this eliminates the often repeated, ridiculous and false, partisan left-wing attacks challenging the intent of our decisions and policies,” McCrory’s connections to Duke don’t end there. He appointed several former Duke executives to his administration.
Duke Energy has insisted at the annual meeting it was a “year of accomplishments,” despite the environmental damage. They are so confident in that assessment that Duke CEO Lynn Good has agreed to a canoe trip to survey three of the company’s 32 coal ash basins with environmentalists. But Waterkeep Alliance’s Donna Lisenby is critical of Duke’s handling of the situation, telling ThinkProgress that the company must begin “to focus on the entire length of the Dan River, not just the part near the Dan River plant.”
The embattled company said it will review its long-term plan for coal ash stored in unlined ponds. Meanwhile, North Carolina and the rest of the country await long-overdue Environmental Protection Agency regulations that tighten oversight of the toxic coal waste byproduct.