Emergency complaint cites persistent criminal history, climate crisis in calling for Roy Cooper to use his constitutional authority over the corporation’s state charter
An alliance of nonprofits today called for NC Attorney General Roy Cooper to assert his explicit legal authority to enforce the corporate charter of Duke Energy, saying an investigation of the corporation’s North Carolina operations is required due to its history of criminality – from partnering with Enron to coal ash failures – and a rapidly advancing climate crisis that could see sea levels rise 10 feet by mid-century.
Citing both the state Constitution and the NC Supreme Court, the emergency complaint says Cooper has the duty to seek to require the largest US utility polluter to phase out fossil fuels, stop blocking clean energy competition and stop corrupting state government.
The alliance also announced a concerted statewide outreach campaign, Emergency Climate Response, to exhort people across the political spectrum to “get in the game” and help North Carolina do its part to slow climate change. At today’s press conference, NC WARN introduced a TV ad that begins airing today in all the state’s major markets and urges the public to call for Cooper’s leadership in requiring Duke Energy to help slow climate change instead of making it worse.
The emergency complaint argues that Duke Energy is in violation of its corporate charter – its permission to operate as granted by the People of the State through their elected officials. It cites a persistent pattern of Duke’s abuses such as criminal activity; fouling the air, land and water; injustices against low-wealth customers; manipulating state agencies and elected officials, and; stifling clean energy competition to maintain monopoly control. Those abuses continue today, the groups say.
They also contend there is an immediate need for Duke Energy to begin phasing out greenhouse gas emissions. From the complaint: “Despite the gravity of climate change and vigorous warnings by the world’s leading scientists that humanity must immediately begin making dramatic reductions in carbon pollution, Duke executives continue to make climate change worse by planning to operate coal-fired power plants for decades, and by building fracking gas plants that can be even worse than coal in causing climate disruption during the next 20 years, a critical period for humanity.”
NC WARN Organizing Director Connie Leeper said: “Mr. Cooper has shown courage in standing against several Duke Energy rate increases that were unjust. We urge him to use this opportunity to provide unprecedented leadership to slow climate change before it spins entirely out of human control.” She added that Cooper must act because national and global leaders continue to fail their duty to cut emissions at the levels demanded by the world’s top climate scientists.
The emergency complaint – delivered to the Attorney General today by NC WARN attorney John Runkle – cites new evidence that climate change is advancing even more quickly than scientists had thought. One of the world’s leading teams of climate scientists now warns that, unless dramatic reductions in pollution begin immediately, global sea levels could rise 10 feet within 50 years due to the melting and breaking up of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland.
That melting is also likely to fuel an alarming increase in the intensity of various storms which, along with sea level rise, could have chaotic social and economic consequences, according to the scientists who conducted the study. The complaint to Cooper says such chaos threatens North Carolina, and it cites damage already occurring in tourism, agriculture and other state industries.
The 27-page complaint cites state law that gives explicit authority to the attorney general to police corporations that are granted permission to operate by the People of the State, and to repeal or alter the charter. The groups aren’t asking Cooper to dissolve Duke Energy, but to force the Charlotte-based corporation to act in the interests of the public well-being, as required by law.
The complaint includes a “RAP sheet,” a long list of Duke Energy crimes and other abuses that “recklessly endanger people’s lives and economic well-being.” The list stretches from Duke’s recent coal ash felonies back to its part in the infamous Enron scandal that led to $250 million in Duke penalties for manipulating power supply and causing corporate-sponsored blackouts in California.
Rev. Nelson Johnson of Greensboro’s Beloved Community Center, one of the signatories to the complaint, said: “The global climate crisis poses a severe and accelerating hazard to the well-being of every North Carolinian. But our economically disadvantaged neighbors are most impacted and least able to mitigate the harm to their families. The People of North Carolina have a duty to call on Mr. Cooper and Duke Energy to cut global warming pollution as rapidly as possible.”
Duke Energy is the largest carbon-polluting utility in the US, and Duke has claimed to be the largest utility in the world. So a genuine announcement that it plans to fully join the clean energy revolution could have a major positive impact worldwide. Meanwhile, the groups told Cooper, North Carolina must begin preparing for worsening weather extremes and rising sea levels that could make most coastal areas uninhabitable within a generation, according to the latest science.
NC WARN has long maintained that Duke Energy persistently misleads the public by merely painting a green corporate image. The complaint cites deceptive Duke claims that it is reducing emissions by closing tiny, little used coal plants while actually replacing them with greater pollution levels from new coal and methane-leaking fracking gas plants. The corporation also claims to support solar power while officially planning to generate only 4% of energy sales from all renewable energy in 2029 and fighting pro-solar policies alongside the Koch brothers and their front groups during the 2015 legislative session.
Coal-fired electricity, with its multiple hazards, is in rapid decline in much of the U.S. The groups told Cooper that now is the time for this state to phase out coal plants and begin the inevitable transition to distributed, renewable energy that will add to the thousands of jobs already being created by the growing clean energy industry.
Later this month, NC WARN and others plan to deliver a request to NC Governor Pat McCrory that he convene a green-ribbon panel to determine a process for how best to bring green jobs and policies to the state that would benefit coal-plant workers and their communities.
Groups joining NC WARN as complainants include Beloved Community Center, Communications Workers of America Local 3607, Climate Voices US, Black Workers for Justice, The NC Climate Justice Summit, and NC Environmental Justice Network.