By Will Doran
The top Democrat in the North Carolina Senate is facing accusations that Duke Energy is paying him as he helps advance the utility company’s legislative agenda.
A formal ethics complaint against Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, a veteran politician from Raleigh, was filed Wednesday by NC WARN, an environmental group that routinely opposes actions taken by Duke Energy.
NC WARN said that Duke hired Blue’s law firm for work related to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, so the state should investigate Blue’s recent actions sponsoring and then voting for a bill that Duke Energy backed.
“The ethics issue is clear-cut: Sen. Blue can’t serve the public interest when he’s heavily paid to serve the diverging interests of Duke Energy,” NC WARN President Jim Warren said in a press release Wednesday.
Blue denied that he has done anything improper.
“One would be stupid to serve in this body and be compensated for taking some act as a result of what they do here,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “I’ve served here for 30-some years, and this kind of out-of-the-sky accusation is absolutely absurd.”
Blue, whose district includes downtown Raleigh and neighborhoods throughout eastern Wake County, has long been a powerful lawmaker. He was the N.C. speaker of the House in the 1990s, before moving to the Senate in the 2000s.
“I haven’t been influenced by anything that Duke has done, directly or indirectly,” Blue said.
NC WARN said Wednesday that in addition to asking the State Ethics Commission to look into ties between Blue and Duke, the group also wants federal prosecutors to get involved.
Duke Energy declined to comment either on the ethics complaint itself or the company’s relationship in general with Blue or his law firm.
The complaint says Blue’s law firm, where his two sons also work, is representing Duke in at least 32 cases where the utility company is trying to get access to peoples’ land to build the pipeline. The pipeline is mostly owned by Duke Energy and a Virginia company called Dominion Energy.
“We believe the evidence will show that Sen. Blue has known since 2017 that he has a conflict in working for Duke and Dominion,” Warren said. “If they do a thorough job, the investigators will find it.”
Blue denied that the bill he recently sponsored, SB 559, is meant to help Duke.