Duke: Impacts of coal use

WHEREAS: The use of coal produces well-established harms to public health including water contamination, climate change, and poor air quality. Coal burning releases carbon dioxide, which is the primary greenhouse gas driving climate change. Climate change results in many health harms and challenges -- from extreme temperatures to declining air and water quality. In addition to health impacts, climate change intensifies extreme storms and flooding, threatening the reliability and safety of coal ash infrastructure and increasing the risk of water contamination.

Climate impacts are exacerbating health risks, necessitating robust mitigation planning from Duke to reduce and avoid such impacts.

  • Toxic contamination. Coal burning results in coal waste -- also called coal ash -- which is laced with heavy metals such as arsenic, and which can contaminate water and raise cancer risk with long term exposure. Duke Energy has had three high profile coal ash spills since 2014 at its Sutton, Dan River, and H.F. Lee coal plants, incurring brand damage, causing spills and leaks associated with health harms, and millions of dollars in clean-up costs. This year’s Hurricane Florence highlighted Duke’s lack of preparation for storms and flooding, the frequency and intensity of which are increasing due to climate change. Duke’s failure to prevent breaches at two of its coal ash waste ponds as a result of Florence’s impact has been criticized, while peers have demonstrated that available best practices could have prevented such spills.

  • Harm to vulnerable communities. The impacts of Duke’s coal ash management are felt disproportionately by low-income communities. After Hurricane Florence, Duke indefinitely closed Lake Sutton to the public — a lake that locals rely on for subsistence fishing.

  • Declining air quality. Burning coal results in sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, mercury, and particulate matter. These pollutants can cause serious health problems such as respiratory illness, including asthma and lung diseases, heart attacks, reduced life expectancy, and increased infant mortality. These harms often become particularly acute as climate change dramatically increases local temperatures.

  • Despite all this, Duke has yet to adequately address the risks of its continued use of coal, especially with regard to the growing impacts it is causing on local communities.

BE IT RESOLVED: Shareholders request that Duke Energy publish a report assessing how it will mitigate the public health risks associated with Duke’s coal operations in light of increasing vulnerability to climate change impacts such as flooding and severe storms. The report should provide a financial analysis of the cost to the Company of coal-related public health harms, including potential liability and reputational damage. It should be published at reasonable expense and omit proprietary information.

SUPPORTING STATEMENT: Investors request the company consider:

  • How Duke Energy’s coal burning exacerbates public health harms;

  • How Duke’s coal operations, including its coal ash disposal, impacts the public health of low income communities and communities of color.