Since 2016, Mercy Investment Services and the Daughters of Charity, Province of St. Louise, have joined As You Sow, a nonprofit working to promote environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, in pushing Duke Energy to address the public health impacts of its coal operations, including management of coal ash. The company is one of the largest electric power companies in the United States, operating in several areas where Sisters of Mercy live and minister including North Carolina, Ohio and Florida. On several occasions, the company’s coal ash ponds have overflowed into nearby waterways during flood events and hurricanes, including a large spill in 2014 in North Carolina’s Dan River. Coal ash sites also pose an ongoing threat to drinking water sources throughout Duke’s service area including the Catawba River.
Mercy Investments and As You Sow worked together to bring a shareholder proposal on this issue to Duke in 2016, receiving a 27.2% vote in favor. Support for this resolution grew steadily, most recently earning 41.7% vote in favor in 2019. A growing number of shareholders called on the company to address this community health issue; community groups on the ground (including the Sisters of Mercy) and nongovernmental organizations dedicated to protecting local water supplies and the health of area residents, such as the state’s riverkeeper organizations and the Southern Environmental Law Center, also advocated for a change in Duke’s operations for several years. Following the ongoing, long-term efforts of shareholders, residents and these organizations, Duke recently announced it will close all its remaining coal ash ponds and in almost all cases move the ash to concrete-lined landfills to prevent future spills and any soil and water contamination.
Mercy Investment Services is encouraged by Duke’s response to pressure from residents, nongovernmental organizations and shareholders and will continue to monitor the company’s progress on the closures and to urge increased transparency, as well as on other important issues such as lobbying and political spending.