Contact: Jim Warren 919-416-5077
Bob Hall 919-489-1931
July 24, 2007
Energy Bill Corrupted by Utility Money
“Is this still Jim Black’s legislature?” groups ask as utilities invest in key lawmakers
Durham, NC – A clean elections watchdog group reported today that two power companies pushing a controversial energy bill with sweeping implications for North Carolina have invested heavily in key state lawmakers who are trying to rush the legislation. Democracy North Carolina reports that Duke Energy and Progress Energy have spent nearly $1.7 million lobbying lawmakers and giving to their campaigns during the past two election cycles. The top ten recipients took an average of over $30,000 each in political contributions. Several of them have openly and aggressively pushed the energy bill.
The report, compiled by researcher Bob Hall, also shows that legislators pushing hard for the energy bill have other financial conflicts of interest. Financial disclosure reports of legislators indicate at least 7 of the 50 state Senators have stock valued at $10,000 or more in Duke or Progress Energy and 6 work for law firms representing “public utilities” or “utility regulation” interests.
Among the top financial recipients are several who have aggressively promoted bill S-3, including Senators Dan Clodfelter, Tony Rand and David Hoyle, and House members Pryor Gibson and Drew Saunders. Rep. Saunders will chair tomorrow’s Public Utilities Committee, and is expected to pass the energy bill in minutes.
“Is this still Jim Black’s legislature?” asked Jim Warren, executive director of NC WARN, a power company watchdog group, in reference to the former House speaker recently sentenced to five years in prison for corruption. “We’re calling on Governor Easley, Speaker Hackney and Senate President Basnight to back off the rush to pass the energy bill. North Carolina cannot afford another lottery-type scandal where the legislation is passed before the corruption is untangled. Passing a blatantly special-interest bill like this is no way to regain public confidence.”
Even House Energy Committee Chair Pricey Harrison expressed concern this week over press reports that the bill was largely written by Progress Energy lawyers.
Scores of organizations – including all but one environmental nonprofit – from across the political and economic spectrum are vigorously opposing the energy bill. They insist the 27-page, highly complex legislation is being rushed toward approval before legislators and others can understand its ramifications for North Carolina. A revised version was handed to members of the House energy committee yesterday 10 minutes after the meeting began. Fifty minutes later, the bill passed on a voice vote.
Some lawmakers have publicly complained both of pressure to speed the bill and of lack of clarity, along with grossly conflicting interpretations of key financial and environmental measures. One of the most contentious involves transferring the risk for new coal and nuclear power plants to customers – which could hike power bills before the plants are built. The Charlotte Observer reported last week that Duke CEO Jim
Rogers said “that without the provision to pass on financing costs for the planned $6 billion [twin reactor] project, Duke will not move ahead with the nuclear plant.”
Another S-3 measure is linked to separate hog waste legislation, which is being reported as a victory for
the state, even though river protection and environmental justice groups are furious at being undermined in their years-long effort to clean up over two-thousand hog cesspools. S-3 would enable the hog industry to avoid cleaning up the lagoons, and instead to put cheap covers over a few of them, then sell methane for electricity.
The power companies and their legislative allies have been pushing for quick approval of S-3 since its emergence in late June. NC WARN and other critics charge that the utilities crafted the bill strongly in their own favor, than added a variety of “sweeteners” to gain approval from a handful of special interests. One under-reported measure would exempt large industry from paying tens of millions annually in electricity taxes – which critics call a perverse disincentive that works against energy efficiency.
Bob Hall reports that, “Year after year, the PACs of Duke Energy and Progress Energy rank among the 10 largest in the state and among the 5 largest sponsored by a single company. The utilities’ gain influence through many means, including their large employment, investment, and tax payments, their gifts to nonprofits and universities, their business ties to policymakers, the scope of their expertise and knowledge, and their direct lobbying.”
Warren added, “Our state urgently needs to move to a clean, economical energy future. This bill is far too important to allow the power companies to continue dominating our system. It must be overhauled. The public is increasingly demanding that state leaders work for us – not big corporations. They better be listening.”
See the report by Democracy NC: