Norway’s central bank said Wednesday it will drop Duke Energy shares from its $900 billion government pension fund because of environmental damage from coal ash.
Norges Bank owned nearly 4.7 million Duke shares at the end of 2015, worth about $335 million, but Reuters reported it has since sold the stock.
A committee of Norway’s parliament recommended in May 2015 that the pension fund divest its shares in Duke Energy and other coal-dependent utilities. The central bank has already excluded 44 coal-based energy companies worldwide, including U.S. companies American Electric Power, Dynegy and Peabody Energy.
The central bank said Wednesday that its decision on Duke was based on the recommendation of an ethics board that in April cited an “unacceptable risk” of Duke’s operations on the environment.
“For many years, (Duke and subsidiaries) have among other things repeatedly discharged environmentally harmful substances from a large number of ash basins at coal-fired power plants in North Carolina,” that recommendation says.
The document referred to court rulings – actually state and federal legislation – that ordered Duke to close its 32 ash basins in the state, but noted that work won’t be finished for years.
It also referred to a $102 million criminal settlement of ash-related environmental violations that Duke reached with federal prosecutors last year, and to the separate $5.4 million settlement of a 15-year-old federal lawsuit over air pollution from its coal plants.
“Norges Bank has been signaling this action for some time, so while we are disappointed, we are not surprised by their decision,” Duke said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that Norges Bank did not consider Duke Energy’s proactive actions to enhance our environmental stewardship and close ash basins across our jurisdictions.”
Duke says it has made substantial progress toward closing its ash ponds. The company has retired more than 40 coal units since 2011, cut carbon dioxide emissions 28 percent and sharply reduced air pollutants released from its coal-fired power plants.
The Norwegian ethics council noted Duke’s pledge to improve its ash handling and meet environmental standards.
“However, the council believes that the risk is still unacceptable. The council places emphasis on the fact that Duke’s companies have for a long time not responded adequately to several of the environmental challenges represented by their activities.”
It cited threats to drinking water, a 2014 ash spill into the Dan River and “extensive and long-lasting breaches of environmental legislation.”