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Journalists must Examine Duke Claims on Climate Impacts — News Release from NC WARN

Duke Energy’s Business Plan Relies on Misleading the Public  

Note to Journalists: Please scrutinize Duke PR claims – and those of its critics – as our society faces existential decisions about energy, climate and democracy

Duke Energy’s long-range business model relies squarely on the public not learning the basics of the Charlotte corporation’s massive expansion of methane-leaking natural gas as it pertains to the global warming crisis. The backdrop:

1) Sea levels could rise 9-10 feet by 2050, as the US insurance industry was recently warned by NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

2)  Duke Energy is ranked the largest carbon dioxide polluting utility in the US.

3) Even worse, Duke Energy has fueled a huge increase in US greenhouse pollution in recent years by expanding its use of methane-leaking natural gas.

4) Now Duke plans to make fracked gas “the backbone” of its future, according to the CEO.

Methane is 100 times stronger as a heat-trapping gas than CO2.  And up to 10 percent of all natural gas – primarily methane – is leaking from gas wells and equipment into the atmosphere, according to Cornell researchers and others, making gas “disastrous” for the generation of electricity.

Yet, by focusing only on pollution from the actual burning of coal and somewhat cleaner-burning gas, Duke persistently implies or directly claims its greenhouse gas emissions are down in recent years as it has burned more gas and less coal.  That claim is in Duke’s image ads, press releases and public statements.  It’s in a letter in The News & Observer criticizing NC WARN (see here).  It’s everywhere.

For Duke to pretend the climate impacts of methane leakage throughout the natural gas industry shouldn’t be counted is like claiming the blowing up of mountains to fuel coal-power plants should be ignored.

Media outlets running articles and Duke Energy image ads citing “lower emissions” have a particular duty to help clarify the record – and inform the public about two key questions of our time:

1. Is Duke Energy helping slow the climate crisis or pouring gas on the fire?  

2. What might North Carolina do to help avert runaway climate chaos?

RISING HEAT AND SEA LEVELS

NOAA’s recent warning that sea levels could rise 9-10 feet by 2050-60 expands on last year’s research by former NASA climatologist James Hansen and others.  That could lead to global chaos within 20 years – unless greenhouse gas pollution, especially methane, is drastically reduced beginning now.

Similarly, the continual shattering of global heat records – including March as the world’s hottest single month on record – has pushed humanity ever closer to the “tipping point” toward runaway climate, social and economic calamity.

A GLIMPSE OF HOPE

As stated by a leading expert on the methane-climate connection, Cornell’s Dr. Robert Howarth:

“The climate responds very quickly to methane, so if we reduce our methane emissions from shale gas now, we will slow the rate of global warming – in fact, that’s the only way to avoid irreversible harm to the climate.”

Duke is essential to that effort due to its size, but its executives continue planning to make fracked gas “the backbone” of its corporate future even as shale gas is considered twice as bad as coal for the climate due to methane leakage at all stages of the gas industry (and as shale economics are tanking).

Duke Energy’s only chance of succeeding with its massive expansion of fracked gas is by pretending methane leakage doesn’t matter and avoiding public debate.

BLATANT FALSEHOOD

As persistent critics of Duke executive decisions, NC WARN welcomes scrutiny of everything we say and publish.  But a recent exchange (see here) proves that Duke cannot honestly debate the facts at the core of our criticism.  In a letter published by the N&O on April 15, Duke’s chief communications officer made several false claims.

Among the most blatantly false and easily disproved claims is that NC WARN “fought [Duke’s] plans to retire a coal plant in Asheville …”.  Here are clips from seven published documents showing NC WARN’s insistence that the plant be closed – including our complaint calling for Attorney General Cooper to phase out all Duke’s coal units.  Not even once did NC WARN argue that the coal plant should remain open.

The fact that Duke officials spend so much customer money trying to make people think its emissions are falling (and that it’s transitioning to solar – despite the puny 4 percent commitment to all renewables in the Carolinas by 2030) proves that the corporate bosses know those are things the public wants to hear.

NC WARN encourages Duke Energy decision-makers to take the next step and actually achieve those widely supported goals – instead of just acting like they’re doing it.

NC WARN and allies have pointed to the methane emissions issue since last summer, but the NC Utilities Commission has shielded Duke from even addressing it.  So Duke continues to dodge the issue, even as the science and increasing national news coverage make methane harder to avoid.

North Carolina’s strong academic and media outlets and people of goodwill across the political spectrum must demand open debate about our climate and energy challenges.

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