Duke Energy Ties to Gov. McCrory Increase Concerns over SB10 Proposal to Fire NC Utilities Commission
This guess post was written by Sue Sturgis for the Institute for Southern Studies' online magazine, Facing South.
This is a critical moment for North Carolina's energy future, as a packed public hearing held in Raleigh this week showed -- and there are growing concerns that the politician who might get to make key decisions about it has significant conflicts of interest.
On Monday, Feb. 11, about 180 people attended a N.C. Utilities Commission (NCUC) hearing on Duke Energy's plan for meeting its customers' power needs over the next two decades. Dozens of citizens testified against Duke's proposed Integrated Resource Plan, which calls for generating most of its energy from polluting sources: dirty coal plants (24 percent), natural gas plants (29 percent), and risky nuclear plants (29 percent). Efficiency would account for only 4.5 percent of Duke's generation mix, while wind and solar would make up only 2.25 percent. The plan would cost Duke's customers dearly, as the company -- which supplies electricity to over 95 percent of North Carolina customers since its merger with Progress Energy -- would quadruple rates within a decade.
Speaker after speaker called on commissioners to require Duke to increase its generation from renewable sources such as solar and to encourage greater efficiency. Many of those who testified cited the urgency of acting now, pointing to mounting signs that the climate has already been dangerously disrupted by unchecked greenhouse gas pollution.
"What are we waiting for, the next tragic super storm to strike?" asked Avram Friedman, executive director of the Canary Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for clean air in western North Carolina. "What is it going to take for you to act in the public interest?"
But there are mounting concerns that the public interest will get even less consideration if North Carolina's legislature gets its way and gives Gov. Pat McCrory (R) sole control over the commission's membership.
A controversial bill recently introduced in the General Assembly would sweep out the current members of key state regulatory commissions including the NCUC and replace them with members appointed by the governor and/or the legislature. In the case of the NCUC, Senate Bill 10 specifies that the new appointments would be made by the governor and confirmed by the legislature. It would also downsize the commission from seven members to five. The bill has already passed the Senate and is now advancing through the House, both of which are controlled by veto-proof Republican super-majorities.
State Sen. Bill Rabon (R-New Hanover), one of the bill's primary sponsors along with Sens. Tom Apodaca (R-Buncombe) and Neal Hunt (R-Wake), told the Senate Rules Committee that the bill streamlines state government and allows key boards to be run by appointees who "are more like-minded and willing to carry out the philosophy of the new administration," as The News & Observer reported.
However, some watchdogs are protesting what they call "an unprecedented conflict of interest" created by the legislation because of McCrory's unusually close ties to Duke Energy.
In addition to having received generous campaign contributions from Duke Energy (the company, its political action committee, employees, and their families donated over $240,000 to McCrory's 2008 and 2012 gubernatorial campaigns and to the state Republican Party since he became the party's nominee, according to a recent report by the liberal advocacy group Progress NC), McCrory worked for the company for 28 years, starting out digging ditches and eventually making his way to a position as senior adviser with Duke's Business and Economic Development Group before retiring in 2007 to run for governor.
Because of that employment history, the clean-energy advocacy group NC WARN last month joined with the state AARP to ask the governor to recuse himself from making appointments to the commission and from appointing a new Public Staff director to represent consumers in utility cases because of his longtime association with Duke. This week NC WARN sent a letter to McCrory raising concerns about the commission overhaul proposal.
"If the bill passes, you would be required to appoint all the members of the Utilities Commission," NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren wrote in the Feb. 11 letter. "The public perception would be inescapable that Duke Energy had captured its regulator, and had done so with the Governor's assistance."
But the governor's financial ties to the utility giant are not merely historic: Though he's no longer employed by Duke Energy, McCrory continues to hold a significant financial stake in the company. His latest statement of economic interest filed with the N.C. Ethics Commission and posted to the Indyweek.com website discloses that he holds stock in Duke valued at a minimum of $10,000. North Carolina ethics rules do not require reporting the exact value of the investment.
Notified of the holdings, Warren said they are "just more evidence that the governor has an unprecedented conflict of interest."
McCrory's history of conflicts
This is not the first time concerns have arisen over potential conflicts of interest related to McCrory's close ties to Duke Energy, as Facing South reported back in 2008.
In 1994, while working for Duke and serving as an at-large city councilman and mayor pro tem in the company's hometown of Charlotte, McCrory chaired a council meeting and voted on a matter that directly affected Duke's finances. City of Charlotte v. Cook involved Charlotte's efforts to condemn private farmland to build an underground water pipe for a project that would enable the city to purchase power from Duke instead of the electric membership corporation that was the authorized provider for that location.
The case eventually ended up in state Supreme Court. Though the court majority ultimately ruled there was no wrongdoing by the city, a dissenting opinion by Justice Beverly Lake Jr., a Republican, pointed to a conflict of interest on McCrory's part:
The record evidences multiple Duke Power internal e-mail messages and memoranda reflecting that Duke Power and the City collaborated to have the City acquire a fee simple title to the property in order that Duke Power could provide the power to the plant. These e-mail messages indicate that the mayor pro tempore of the City, an employee of Duke Power, as well as the project director had contact with Duke Power officials and discussed condemning a fee simple interest for the project. The mayor pro tempore chaired the 12 September 1994 City Council meeting where the subject of condemning a fee simple was discussed, and he voted in favor of a fee simple condemnation.
McCrory filed an affidavit saying he would not have participated in the meeting if he had known Duke was involved. However, the court pointed to evidence that McCrory did in fact know Duke was involved -- though it ruled that "an ethical problem involving the Council has to rise to a much higher level than this one for us to upset a decision by the Council."
In another action that raised conflict of interest concerns, McCrory went to Washington, D.C. in 1997 to testify as Charlotte mayor against federal clean air regulations for the city that would have cost his employer Duke Energy an estimated $600 million. As a local paper reported at the time:
When asked about a possible conflict of interest arising from his appearance on Capitol Hill as Charlotte's mayor to testify about a matter that would directly affect his employer, Duke Power (where he serves as manager of business relations), McCrory replied, "No, in fact it's quite beneficial because I'm very knowledgeable on the subject."
In the letter it sent to McCrory this week about the latest conflict of interest concern, NC WARN asked the governor to oppose the NCUC provision in the commission overhaul bill and to call for it to be removed from the House version of the legislation. It also asked McCrory to state that, should the section pass in spite of his opposition, he would appoint an independent panel to recommend candidates for the NCUC and abide by its recommendations.
If he fails to do so, NC WARN's Warren wrote, McCrory risks further alienating the people from the government that's supposed to serve them:
The Utilities Commission provisions of the bill would set the precedent that whenever legislative leadership and the governor changes party, the seated commissioners would be thrown out and replaced. It would do away with the Commission's institutional legitimacy as well as its knowledge base and continuity gained by handling its highly complex legal, technical, and policy issues. The public, already skeptical that utility regulation is in the public's interest, would see the Commission as just a rubber stamp wielded by politicians and their utility industry backers. Instead of bolstering faith in the integrity and effectiveness of state government, the bill would take cynicism to a new level.
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
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.
Tomorrow, the American Legislative Exchange Council--known as ALEC--will host their 2012 Spring Task Force summit in Charlotte, NC. At tomorrow's meeting, the corporate front group will round up its various committees and prepare to peddle new state-level legislation to attack clean energy laws, protect polluting industries, privatize education, and suppress voters, among other big business schemes.
Need a refresher on ALEC? It's the group that brings state legislators to the table with representatives from major corporations in the sectors of energy, healthcare, tobacco, private prisons, and other groups to manipulate state politics to maximize their profits and limit their liabilities. These companies help craft template bills for state legislators to bring home and introduce in their respective statehouses.
Documents obtained and published by Common Cause now give us a roster of specific attendees at ALEC's environmental meetings, a consortium of state legislators and a who's who of the most offensive polluting political heavyweights including: Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Duke Energy and Peabody. Participating legislators know well they're walking into a dirty party, sometimes using state taxpayer money to foot the bill.
The corporations that fund ALEC are well known for their political spending on both sides of the aisle. ALEC funders include Koch Industries, known for its coordinated political spending against President Obama, and Duke Energy, which is laying down a ten million dollar line of credit to host the Democratic National Convention in their hometown of Charlotte, NC. But these polluting companies are co-conspirators under the banner of ALEC, where partisan politics are set aside to focus on the mission of destroying environmental protections, clean energy competition and liability for crimes against both people and the ecosystems sustaining us.
So what exactly are ALEC and these oil, coal, chemical and public relations companies focusing on tomorrow?
According to their newest meeting memorandum, ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force is going to discuss some pending model laws that ALEC will likely be approved for state distribution:
- The "Electricity Freedom Act" (really? Electricity Freedom?!) is a new attack on states with plans requiring companies to get a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. This new bill is similar to other legislation ALEC has already peddled in several states and compliments an "email and telephone campaign" against state renewable energy standards, according to the Guardian.
- The "Coal Intrastate and Use Act" serves to prevent EPA from overruling state permits for coal mining and producing dirty coal products (like liquid coal for fuel) if all the coal operations are conducted within the borders of a single state.
- The "Resolution on U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement Accountability" mandates a report be filed on cities and states that have fallen short of their goals to reduce greenhouse gases through the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which has over 1,000 signatories. ALEC's new resolution then demands that any program that hasn't met its goal be canceled out right, voiding the Climate Protection Agreement altogether. Keeping in mind that ALEC's members like Koch and Exxon have fought greenhouse gas programs at every turn for years, it is obvious that this ALEC bill is meant for one thing, attacking programs that address carbon emissions.
- A resolution demanding the passage of the notorious federal REINS Act, which would give Congress the power to block the enforcement of just about any federal protection--clean air and water laws, safeguards for mine workers, prohibiting tobacco sales to kids, protection from discrimination, you name it. It's the ultimate gift from Congress to their corporate fundraisers who would like to avoid responsibility for...everything.
- The exhaustively-titled "Resolution Supporting a Reasonable Compliance Timeline and Economy-wide impact study of EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Rule" has a simple purpose: delay when coal-burning utilities have to reduce mercury pollution and other severely hazardous emissions. For major mercury polluters like Energy Future Holdings, American Electric Power, and Duke Energy, this is likely to be a popular item tomorrow.
Documents obtained and published by Common Cause also show us what ALEC's focal points have been for other meetings in the last two years. Here are a few examples:
- A resolution urging Congress and the State Department to push through TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. ALEC recycles a lofty jobs lie in their reasoning for this resolution, ignoring State Department KXL job estimates under 2,000 and a Cornell study warning that "There is evidence to suggest that the effects of KXL construction could very well lead to more jobs being lost than are created." How many jobs does ALEC assume? 120,000 -- see Greenpeace's letter to the SEC to understand how they were calculated by politics rather than reality. Go figure--the American Petroleum Institute and its largest members were in the room when this resolution was forged.
- A deceptive ALEC bill pushed by ExxonMobil that "discloses" chemicals used by the oil industry in fracking operations, but actually inserts loopholes to avoid disclosure of certain fracking chemicals. This bate-and-switch comes at a time when doctors are concerned about signing confidentiality agreements if they ask for disclosure of fracking chemicals when treating people who are exposed to chemicals from gas drilling.
- A resolution that would prevent EPA from recognizing coal ash as a hazardous substance (it contains neurotoxins, carcinogens and radioactive elements). This may well have served as the model for the coal ash amendment that is currently being tacked on to the federal transportation bill by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV). Coal ash was a repeated topic of discussion at ALEC's energy task force meetings over the last two years, according to their meeting documents.
Who exactly attends these events? Beyond ALEC staff and dozens of corporate representatives, industry front groups are also represented. Tomorrow will feature John Felmy of the American Petroleum Institute in a presentation on gas prices (spoiler alert: this crowd will probably blame the President). Next up: presentations from representatives of the Edison Electric Institute (utility trade group) and the Nuclear Energy Institute (nuclear industry lobby).
Perhaps most intriguing will be a chat about "The Dirty Truth Behind Reusable Bags" led by Charles Gerba, who will warn attendees that reusable bags will give them "projectile vomiting and diarrhea." Gerba may not mention this dramatic and messy sickness can be avoided by simply washing one's reusable bags, since Mark Daniels of Hilex Poly (a plastic bag company) regularly attends these meetings, and Gerba serves as an advisor to Hilex Poly.
ALEC always gets some of industry's most interesting mouthpieces to set the rhetorical tone for those attending ALEC's anti-environmental jamborees. Looking back to last August at ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture task force meeting in New Orleans, presenters included:
- Robert Bradley of the Institute for Energy Research, which made press recently when its sister group the American Energy Alliance spend $3.6 million on ads blaming the President for high gas prices. IER has a former Koch lobbyist on staff and has received $175,000 from Koch foundations in recent years as part of the climate denial network.
- Gerry Angevene of the Fraser Institute, another longtime player in the Koch- and Exxon-funded climate denial machine
- James Taylor of the Heartland Institute, which has helped champion ALEC efforts to confuse K-12 students about climate science. Heartland is currently in the middle of a crisis as corporate funders are distancing themselves from its comparison of terrorists and serial killers to those who recognize the reality of global warming. Seriously, they put the Unabomber on a billboard saying, "Do you still believe in global warming? I do. www.heartland.org"
- Craig Idso, whose nutjob Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change has been paid by the coal industry and the Heartland Institute to tell people that global warming is good for the planet. Craig Idso explained this nonsense to state legislators in August. As is the pattern here, see the Center's history of Koch- and Exxon-funding, as well as Idso's former employment at Peabody and work for the Western Fuels Association.
- Stephen Miller of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which spends big on national advertisements promoting the idea that perhaps coal isn't inherently dirty, dangerous and deadly (it is). Miller, who is resigning from ACCCE this year after serving as a dilligent coal apologist for the last decade, came under Congressional fire in 2009 when it was revealed that ACCCE contractors forged letters on behalf of groups "representing senior citizens, minorities and veterans," including the NAACP.
Likely due to the publicity of ALEC Exposed and the recent mass migration of 16 companies and 34 state politicians away from ALEC (in response to controversial bills on voter suppression and Stand Your Ground laws that protected Trayvon Martin's killer), ALEC no longer includes the specific members of its task forces in the documents it mails to participants beforehand. ALEC's Energy task force as of June, 2011 shows the nefarious people who run this dirty operation, by name. People representing the following groups have been consistently present at recent ALEC meetings over the last couple years:
Oil and gas industry:
- Shell Oil
- American Petroleum Institute
- Occidental Petroleum
- Marathon Oil
- Continental Resources
- American Gas Association (trade association)
- Peabody Energy
- Cloud Peak Energy
- Duke Energy & Progress Energy (which are merging into the nation's largest utility company)
- Energy Future Holdings
- American Electric Power
- PacifiCorp (a MidAmerican subsidiary, owned by Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway)
- Alliant Energy
- Pinnacle West
- MDU Resources
- NV Energy
- Edison Electric Institute (trade association, membership includes all utilities above)
- American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (membership includes AEP, Peabody, and Energy Future Holdings subsidiary Luminant)
- Salt River Project
- National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (an aggressive lobbying group for electrical utility cooperatives and top political donor in the energy sector)
- Nuclear Energy Institute (trade association)
- Duke, Progress, AEP, and Pinnacle West all have notable nuclear generation capacity
Other major polluters:
- Dow Agrosciences
- International Paper
- American Chemistry Council (top trade association for chemical companies)
- Bayer Healthcare (Bayer is the country's top air polluter according the Political Economy Research Institute at U-Mass, Amherst)
- Honeywell (#31 on PERI's toxic air polluters list)
- General Motors (GM has a history of climate denial, although GM Foundation just dumped the Heartland Institute)
- LyondellBasell Industries (third largest chemical company in the world)
Front groups, all involved in climate science denial (Koch funding since 2005):
- Americans for Prosperity ($5,760,781)
- Atlas Economic Research Foundation ($152,600)
- Commonwealth Foundation ($84,532)
- Goldwater Institute ($70,427)
- John Locke Foundation ($47,472)
- Heartland Institute ($25,000)
Public Relations Firms
Dezenhall Resources, which Businessweek calls the "Pit Bull of Public Relations." Dezenhall Resources is currently included in a Greenpeace lawsuit due to its role in hiring spies on behalf of chemical companies to track Greenpeace's internal campaign plans.