Duh. That's probably what you thought to yourself when you read my headline.
Yes, as American families on the east coast are reeling from an unprecedented weather disaster, Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning told CNBC:
“I don’t think the data supports that the storms are more frequent or unusual than they have been in the past. But the point is right now that we are not dedicated to getting into an ancillary argument.” (h/t The Hill)
Fanning probably considers the much-needed conversations considering Hurricane Sandy and climate change as "ancillary" because Southern Company plays a very central and very inconvenient role in creating global warming. Apparently, Fanning's home and livelihood weren't damaged by superstorm Sandy, although his birthplace of Morristown, NJ was hit by the storm. Lucky him--out of sight, out of mind! Apparently there's no need to talk about the deeper issue of global warming. (Greenpeace photos of damage from Sandy).
See, not only is Southern Co one of the nation's largest coal-burning utilities, but it creates more carbon pollution than any other utility in the country and ranks #7 in global power company carbon emissions. Southern Co is responsible for dumping over 145 million tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere each year, making it a key culprit in the global climate crisis.
In turn, global warming creates conditions that can make cyclones like Hurricane Sandy more intense than they naturally would be, not to mention increasing the likelihood of other extreme weather events like droughts, floods, and heavy storms. If you live in the U.S., you know this year was particularly suspicious in terms of climate-related disasters.
Suspicious unless you have your head in the sand, as Mr. Fanning appears to. What's worse is how much Thomas Fanning's company has paid money to stuff other people's heads in the sand with them.
While aggravating global warming through its immense greenhouse gas emissions, Southern Company has also been a key manipulator in our national dialog over global climate change:
- Funding junk science: Southern Company gave Willie Soon $230,000 from 2006-2009 for two distinct junk studies disguised as scientific research in order to confuse politicians into ignoring policy solutions to climate change. Willie Soon is a career climate science denier whose other "research" sponsors have included ExxonMobil, the Charles G Koch Foundation and the American Petroleum Institute.
- Funding shill groups: Southern Co. is a member of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a front group run by coal utility lobbyists at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani. Through ERCC lobbyists Scott Segal and Jeff Holmstead, Southern Co and other dirty utilities bitterly opposes any requirements for coal companies to reduce their pollution or greenhouse gases causing global warming. Southern Co is also a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), another front group opposing strong environmental standards for coal pollution. You may be familiar with ACCCE for its multimillion dollar ad buys around the election, or for its involvement in a scandal where forged letters were sent to Congress to oppose climate legislation in 2009.
Buying politics: Since 2008, Southern Co. has spent over $61 million lobbying our federal government, much of which was to block environmental laws and legislation addressing climate change. Southern Co. has spent over $10 million each year on federal lobbying since 2004. To support its lobbying expenditures, Southern Co. has also sent over $1.6 million to federal politicians and registered political groups since the 2008 election cycle.
- In the 2012 presidential election, Southern Co. has sent $46,650 to Republican candidate Mitt Romney and $8,580 to President Barack Obama (OpenSecrets).
Unfortunately for the climate and those who are now suffering from weather disasters, Southern Company is just one of many companies funding our politicians and then paying lobbyists, setting up front groups and financing hack scientists to push politicians even farther into an anti-science fantasy-land. Along with Southern are other key bad actors like Duke Energy, Peabody, ExxonMobil, Chesapeake Energy, Koch Industries and other fossil fuel interests that also want to stomp any mention of global warming out of politics, protecting billions in profit and limiting their liability over pollution problems.
Understanding how these behemoths operate and coordinate makes it less surprising, though no less offensive, that we didn't hear about climate change in the first presidential debate series in over 20 years.
It doesn't matter if global warming is an "ancillary" issue to Southern Company after disasters like Hurricane Sandy, or if the presidential contenders won't be honest with Americans about the problem. Our changed climate is only going to keep changing.
Written by Madhura Deshpande of Greenpeace's Frontline program.
On September 27th I had the opportunity to attend Jim Rogers’ first public appearance as CEO of Duke Energy Corp--which just completed a messy takeover of Progress Energy--and listen to his keynote speech about their future energy policy. The most surprising portion of this event was when Jim Rogers stated Duke’s mission is to provide clean, sustainable energy to its ratepayers. What a fantastic statement to make when comparing words to actions: Duke’s true, actionable mission is and has been to minimize the percentage of renewable energy in our portfolio and maximize funding for more coal, unregulated natural gas, and nuclear energy plants.
At the end of the event we asked Mr. Rogers why Duke Energy continues to support climate science denial (an obviously global and critical issue facing us today) and voter suppression by funding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), especially since Duke’s policies seem to oppose such efforts. Conveniently, Mr. Rogers declined to answer on the grounds that he was leaving the event and did not have any more time.
ALEC is a group of big industry leaders (oil, coal, gas, tobacco, healthcare, etc) that help create state bills that limit the responsibility of their companies, and thus make more money. How can they do this? It’s easy: they use the massive profits from their respective industries to rub elbows with State lawmakers and ‘ghostwrite’ bills to be passed. Through these meetings, ALEC has helped disseminate state laws that disenfranchise voters and policies that deny climate science and solutions to global warming.
It’s time for Duke Energy and Jim Rogers to commit: drop ALEC and match your rhetoric with your actions. This nation and our environment cannot afford to wait any longer.
UPDATE: Student activist Ben Wiley details his question to Duke Energy's Vincent Davis about support for ALEC, which was ignored.
Yesterday, members of Greenpeace, Energy Action Coalition, and other groups sent a message loud and clear to Duke Energy that we want them to dump ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) before the end of the Democratic National Convention.
ALEC is a rightwing bill mill group that connects corporations with our elected officials to draft model legislation in support of corporate profits over the welfare of people and our planet. ALEC has written legislation including Arizona’s racist immigration law SB1070, Stand Your Ground Laws relating to the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida, and many voter suppression laws such as Voter ID here in North Carolina. But that’s not all, ALEC also has an Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force which is working on legislation to stop regulation of coal fired power plants and to prevent laws from being passed that support renewable energy.
Duke Energy, headquartered in the heart of Charlotte and at the center stage at the 2012 Democratic National Convention this week, is a major contributor to this dirty front group. Last May, Duke Energy spent $50,000 to bring ALEC’s annual meeting to Charlotte. Especially in South Carolina and Indiana, Duke representatives work very closely with ALEC to draft such legislation.
This is why yesterday, dozens of activists gathered in Charlotte to ask Duke Energy’s CEO Jim Rogers to make the call and dump ALEC! We gathered in front of the Knight Theater where Rogers was speaking on a panel and urged passersby to make a phone call into the Duke Headquarters. Then we hand delivered 150,000 petition signatures that have been collected in the past week. At the same time in Ohio, local activists gathered to deliver the message to Duke’s Midwest corporate headquarters. And all throughout the day yesterday activists took action online on Facebook and Twitter sending their messages directly to Duke Energy.
We know that it’s working. We ran into Jim Rogers at an event and he said that he’s listening. The question remains, will Duke act?
I spoke with Duke Energy's Jim Rogers at the DNC. He's hearing from us! And 150k people. And Senators.
Written by Whit Jones, Energy Action Coalition Campaign Director, crossposted from We Are Powershift
Today Greenpeace joins a coalition of environmental, civil rights and democracy reform groups that are calling upon Duke Energy to join the 38 other companies that have left the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC -- see the letter the coalition sent to CEO Jim Rogers this morning.
Why, you ask? And WTF is ALEC??
ALEC is a corporate bill mill--it brings companies like Duke, Exxon, Koch Industries, Phillip Morris and other bad actors together with conservative state lawmakers in order to draft laws. You may have noticed how certain controversial state laws spread like wildfire across the country, including voter suppression, union-busting bills, attacks on clean energy programs, and other items you wouldn't expect the average person to ask their politicians to do. ALEC was behind all of these on behalf of its corporate members, who are eager to dodge lobbying laws and get relatively cheap access to our Statehouses.
Duke Energy in particular has deep ties to ALEC, sending it tens of thousands of dollars in support, helping ALEC oversee state operations in South Carolina and Indiana, and supporting the creation of ALEC's anti-environmental bills.
Duke Energy has distinguished itself from other polluters with rhetorical commitments to tackling global warming and implementing clean energy, but stops short of meaningful action. By dumping ALEC, Duke would take a step in the right direction toward the potential it has to become a cleaner energy company.
The full text and coalition signatories of the letter is posted in full here:
We, the undersigned, a coalition of environmental, civil rights, and democracy reform groups are writing to express our concern for the extensive support provided by Duke Energy to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and request Duke Energy disassociate and stop funding ALEC immediately.
ALEC is not only responsible for drafting model state laws attacking renewable energy programs and climate policies, it is also intentionally crafting and supporting Voter ID bills and other legislation designed to suppress people from voting and participating in our democracy. We are concerned about this fundamental attack on our democracy and civil rights, and Duke Energy’s support for it.
Duke Energy has repeatedly stated concern over climate change, yet is participating in ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force, which includes notorious climate skeptics like the Heartland Institute and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (which we understand Duke Energy disassociated from in 2009 due to its role in obstructing national climate policy). In direct opposition to Duke Energy’s position on climate, ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force continues to advance legislative efforts that attempt to deny the realities of climate change.
ALEC more broadly demonstrates an attack against state action on climate change and renewable energy, promoting laws and resolutions that undermine state’s abilities to address climate change and expand clean energy. While Jim Rogers has called for the US to “wean [itself] from the use of foreign oil,”[viii] Duke works alongside multinational oil companies like ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and Chevron within ALEC, all of which are known for their heavy obstruction of U.S. climate and clean energy policies.
Perhaps most alarmingly, ALEC is spearheading attacks on our democracy and civil rights, promoting Voter ID legislation and other bills intended to make it more difficult for people to vote and participate in our democracy. These bills will most dramatically hit young people, people of color and poor people, suppressing them and their ability to vote.
You may have recently noticed that Duke Energy, the nation's largest utility, launched a major advertising campaign. This includes airing their first television commercials in 15 years. In light of the controversy surrounding their merger with Progress energy, it comes as no surprise they would attempt to repair their public image.
The ads all begin with someone flipping a power switch. A narrator explains how we “don't think about what it's connected to or how the power gets there,” but instead about what really matters in life, like family reunions, your son's basketball game, proposing to your wife... I think you get the idea. These ads try to illicit an emotional connection between us and Duke. Each ad ends with the line “You don't think about all that's going on behind that switch, because we do.”
Well Duke, we actually do “think about all that's going on behind that switch.” Last week, concerned members of the community came out to discuss the ways Duke works behind the scenes to maximize its bottom line. More importantly, we discussed what we as a community can do about it.
The meeting was held in Charlotte, NC, where Duke Energy has its headquarters. Greenpeace's NC field organizer, Monica Embrey, began by giving an overview of Duke's relationship with dirty energy. Duke owns dozens of coal-fired power plants, many just outside of Charlotte. Coal is the leading contributor to climate change, and releases harmful toxins into our water and air. This coal is obtained through a destructive strip-mining technique known as mountaintop removal . Embrey explained how we pay for dirty energy not only through out utility bills but ultimately through our healthcare costs.
Beth Henry, one of the leading experts on Duke, discussed how Duke uses our money to buy access to politicians in order to influence policy. Duke is on pace to become North Carolina’s largest political spender after having recently merged with Progress Energy. In the 2009-2010 election cycle, the companies collectively spent over $19 million on lobbying and state and federal campaigns. The company has a number of links to members of the NC Utilities Commission, a group that is supposed to regulate the industry. Henry explained how Duke has a long history of influencing legislators and regulators in its favor. Duke truly epitomizes the idea of the revolving door.
Henry also highlighted Duke's relationship with universities and charities. Duke essentially purchases allies and good PR through their contributions. Many of these institutions are beholden to Duke for funding. She gave specific examples of organizations reluctant to act or speak out against Duke due to this relationship.
I spoke about the relationship between Duke and the Democratic National Convention, which will be held in Charlotte. Duke's CEO, Jim Rogers, has been intimately involved in the fundraising process. He is co-chair of the the convention host committee and has personally given $100,000 to the group. Rogers has paid out of his own pocket to hire a personal assistant to work full-time on DNC fundraising. In fact, Duke is providing $1 million worth of uptown office space, rent-free, for the entire host committee. The company has even guaranteed the host committee a $10 million line of credit in case their fundraising runs short. Duke is also one of the leading contributors to New American City, Inc., a fund setup by the host committee in order to accept corporate money.
Tony Ndege, of Occupy Winston-Salem, described the troubling relationship between Duke and the American Legislative Exchange Council. Ndege explained how ALEC is essentially a corporate bill mill where corporations and special interests help craft model legislation. Duke has helped create bills attacking environmental regulations and attempts to reduce greenhouse emmissions. Corporations like Duke fund most of ALEC's operations. They sponsored ALEC's 2012 spring meeting in Charlotte. Duke has given ALEC $116,000 since 2009, according to the Charlotte Business Journal.
Afterward, members of the community engaged in an open discussion. People suggested what we can do to fight back against the destructive effects of dirty energy. Updates were given about key actions taking place around the state and nation. People were energized, inspired, and ready to act.
Now more than ever, people in Charlotte know what's “going on behind that switch.” No amount of Duke propaganda will hide the true facts of how they operate.
Missed the event but still want to hear what happened? Check out the video recorded live stream here.
See Martin Smith question the CEOs of the three greatest CO2 emitters in the country. Of particular highlight is Smith's grilling of Southern Company's David Ratcliffe for spending money lobbying against renewable energy, funding industry front groups that deny or belittle the seriousness of climate change, and fund politicians willing to roadblock progress on addressing global warming.
Martin Smith, Frontline, Oct 21, 2008