By John Murawski
What’s a reasonable cost for a nonprofit environmental organization to pay before it’s allowed to legally challenge a state power plant permit issued to the nation’s largest electric utility? Duke Energy’s suggestion: $240 million.
Two North Carolina environmental advocacy groups are challenging a rarely invoked 1965 North Carolina law that could require them to post a financial bond before they can appeal a power plant construction permit issued in March to Duke Energy Progress.
Having to pay that sum would spell financial ruin for NC WARN in Durham and The Climate Times in Boone, the two shoestring organizations that want to appeal an N.C. Utilities Commission permit allowing the Charlotte utility company to build a pair of natural gas power plants in Asheville. The advocacy groups say that natural gas, far from being a bridge fuel to a renewables future, can be more dangerous than burning coal because methane leaking into the atmosphere is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
NC WARN and Climate Times would have to pay Duke only if they lose their court appeal, not if they win. They say it’s a gambit they can ill afford to take, effectively barring their access to the judicial system.
The Utilities Commission sets the bond amount, and if the nonprofits lose in court, the commission would then determine the amount they must pay to cover costs.
“No nonprofit – or for-profit – entity would put up that kind of money in such a rigged system,” NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren said of the Utilities Commission. “I find it hard to believe we’d gamble money in that saloon.”