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An investor group including Calpers is asking shareholders to vote on Massey Energy Co.'s (MEE) management-sponsored governance proposals at a meeting Wednesday that marks the latest in an investor push for changes in management.
The issues at stake--including proposals that would institute annual elections of directors, eliminate supermajority voting requirements and allow shareholders to call special meetings--gained momentum after the deadliest U.S. coal mining accident in 40 years killed 29 at a Massey mine in April.
"Last spring's disaster at Upper Big Branch invited sharp demands for improved approaches to safety, health, management, compensation and governance practices," Pennsylvania State Treasurer Rob McCord said in a statement from the investor group.
The group does not support a proposal to remove cumulative voting, which would let shareowners apply all of their combined shares for director seats to one or more candidates rather than separately for each director.
"Investors have pushed for these governance changes to strengthen accountability," said Anne Simpson, senior portfolio manager heading the corporate governance program for the California Public Employees' Retirement System, the biggest U.S. public pension fund by assets. "Now is the time to act and make sure those changes take place."
"My only comment would be to urge shareholders to vote," said Roger Hendriksen, Richmond, Va.-based Massey's director of investor relations.
The company came under fire this spring from institutional investors alleging that company safety lapses contributed to an April 5 explosion in Montcoal, W.Va., that killed 29 men. Public-pension fund managers urged the ouster of three board members at the company's annual meeting in May.
Massey recently added two new outside directors amid concern from some investors that existing directors aren't sufficiently independent of Massey's CEO Don Blankenship. This spring the union-backed CtW Investment Group said Blankenship should be removed from his posts.
The investors coalition--which also includes the Office of Connecticut State Treasurer, Illinois State Board of Investment, Maryland State Pension and Retirement System, New York State Common Retirement Fund, North Carolina Department of State Treasurer, and Pennsylvania Treasury--owns 1,556,331 shares of Massey Energy valued at over $23 million.
-By Matt Whittaker, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2139; firstname.lastname@example.org