State Treasurer takes on coal ash EPA campaign

Treasurer Wheeler urges better regulation of coal ash to reduce health risks and lessen need for costly cleanups
— As a major investor, Oregon supports responsible corporate practices and sensible regulations
Oregon State Treasurer

SALEM – Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to better regulate the disposal of toxic coal ash in order to reduce the likelihood of costly environmental and public health impacts.

The State Treasurer, representing the Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund, is part of a coalition of institutional investors that collectively manage more than $240 billion in assets and jointly submitted testimony asking the environmental agency to enact stronger rules regarding disposal of coal ash, and better reporting about those methods.

Oregon has one coal-fired power plant and coal ash landfill site, at Boardman in Morrow County. The facility is operated by Portland General Electric, which has announced plans to stop burning coal at the plant by 2020, which would be 20 years ahead of schedule.

“Every corporation and utility should act in a responsible way, especially when they are dealing with toxic wastes,” Treasurer Wheeler said. “PGE is taking the right steps for their company, for their shareholders and for Oregon. Wherever coal is burned, investors and the public will be better protected by stronger rules, because doing too little can lead to major costs later.”
Coal ash is a by-product of burning coal and contains heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, lead and other toxins, and is left in landfills or ponds. However, those ponds and landfills are subject to less consistent regulation than landfills accepting household trash.

National attention to coal ash disposal was raised after a pond breach in Tennessee in 2008. That disaster sent millions of gallons of contaminated sludge and water into the Emory River and destroyed three houses.

In its testimony, the investors’ coalition highlights the financial assurance requirement in the proposed regulations, saying that provision will help shareholders to understand financial risks associated with coal ash and to evaluate which companies are financially prepared to manage the costs of decommissioning coal ash sludge ponds or dealing with other coal ash-related impacts.
The Oregon State Treasury, which manages the Oregon Public Employees Retirement Fund, directly interacts with companies in an attempt to improve corporate responsibility and to enhance shareholder say in issues such as CEO salaries and reporting of environmental safeguards and risks.

In addition to internal communications and proxy vote actions, Oregon also seeks more accountability from Wall Street and corporations through lawsuits, when companies have failed to act in shareholders’ best financial interests.
Good corporate governance is a system of checks and balances that fosters transparency, responsibility, accountability and market integrity – and as a result, adds value to public investments.

Other signatories to the letter to the EPA include the Connecticut State Treasurer’s Office and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
The Oregon State Treasury protects public assets and saves Oregonians money through its investment, banking, and debt management functions. The office also promotes public outreach and education to help Oregonians learn strategies to save money, invest for college and make smart financial choices.


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