By Travis Fain
A climate change group known for taking on Duke Energy filed an ethics complaint against Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue on Wednesday, suggesting that his support of key legislation for the company is tied to work his family law firm does for the Duke’s planned natural gas pipeline.
NC WARN said it would also forward this complaint to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, saying in a release that “the timing of Blue’s paid work and promotion of Duke’s interests raise suspicion about a potential quid pro quo.”
Blue, D-Wake, dismissed the complaint as an absurd “out-of-the-sky accusation.” He insisted that Duke and the conglomerate behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline are separate entities, though Duke owns nearly half the line.
He said Senate Bill 559, which he’s co-sponsoring this session, doesn’t help the company, but simply gives the North Carolina Utilities Commission a new way to review rate increase requests. Sponsors have said repeatedly that the bill doesn’t require the commission to change its process; it just provides the option.
The bill is a priority for the company, though. It helped write it, and its lobbying team is working it hard.
The bill would allow the Utilities Commission, which regulates Duke and other utilities, to approve annual rate increases as much as five years in advance. It was filed after a commission decision last year denied Duke billions in requested increases to cover future coal ash clean up costs and to remake the state’s electric grid over the coming decade.
Blue said in a statement Wednesday that his involvement with the bill “was vetted with legislative staff prior to its filing.” He told reporters that he “talked informally with ethics lawyers who did not see a conflict” and that he hasn’t been influenced “by anything Duke has done.”
“Anyone claiming that I can be bought doesn’t know my record,” Blue, who is a former House speaker and has been in the state legislature more than 30 years, said in a written statement.