NC WARN says prominent Democrat is promoting controversial Duke Energy legislation and gas pipeline while reaping lucrative legal fees for ACP – with more to come
A watchdog group today filed a lengthy complaint with the NC Ethics Commission outlining what they say is an improper arrangement between Duke Energy and Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue. The complaint says Blue is lead promoter of hotly contested state legislation sought by Duke Energy even as his family law firm has already sued at least 32 landowners to make way for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a project owned by Duke and Dominion Resources, and with the big legal fees yet to come.
NC WARN is also turning over the complaint to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, saying the timing of Blue’s paid work and promotion of Duke’s interests raise suspicion about a potential quid pro quo, a knowing exchange of favors for compensation. A key question raised in the complaint: When exactly did Duke or Dominion begin talking with Blue about ACP work – and Senate Bill 559?
In promoting SB 559, the complaint says, Blue is taking “official action” as a senator while being paid by the corporation that wrote the bill and is heavily pushing for its passage, in violation of state ethics rules. Also, Blue and other legislative leaders urged federal regulators to approve the ACP in a 2017 letter sent only months before Blue’s firm began representing Duke and Dominion in the eminent domain cases. Such cases tend be lucrative for attorneys working on behalf of utilities.
NC WARN says it consulted several political ethics experts and gained supportive feedback prior to filing the complaint.
Jim Warren, Executive Director of NC WARN, said at a press conference today: “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. The legal fees – and the promise of much more – make Senator Blue an advocate for the ACP, Duke Energy and Dominion Resources, and he has openly played that role in promoting the deceptive and complex SB 559, where other legislators have relied on his leadership.”
Last week, the Energy Justice NC Coalition, which includes NC WARN, ran full-page ads in The News & Observer pointing to Blue’s prominent role in promoting Senate Bill 559 and how Duke Energy boosted its campaign contributions to Blue in the lead-up to the bill. SB 559 could be worth tens of billions to Duke Energy. But the ethics complaint doesn’t address Duke’s campaign money.
The complaint is much bigger than campaign money, says Warren, and goes to the heart of the Duke monopoly’s business model and its plans to charge captive customers for tens of billions of dollars’ worth of projects, from coal ash to power plants to $13 billion in what critics say is a scheme to soak customers for unneeded grid improvements.
Marvin Winstead, a Nash County farmer fighting an ACP eminent domain case, said today, “ACP LLC is a shell corporation and a well-coordinated scam by Duke Energy and Dominion Resources – the corporations targeting people’s homes across eastern North Carolina. What they’re doing is criminal.” Winstead was first contacted by in May 2014 about his home being on the pipeline route.
NC WARN says the extent and timing of Blue’s legal work for Duke and Dominion must be determined by investigators because most legal arrangements are not public record the way the 32 eminent domain cases are. Construction of the ACP – with a price tag that’s ballooned to $7.8 billion – has been stalled indefinitely by a federal appeals court ruling, so legal fees for the land cases are also on hold. Resumption of ACP could lead to even greater income for Blue LLP and other firms working for Duke and Dominion, because many contested cases become lengthy court battles.
Blue recently told a reporter he works only for ACP, LLC. NC WARN says in every legal and reasonable interpretation, he’s working for Duke and Dominion; ACP LLC is a shell corporation that’s 95 percent owned by Duke and Dominion. Moreover, the ACP apparently has no personnel; all the various types of ACP promotion are being done by Duke and Dominion.
Warren added, “We believe the evidence will show that Sen. Blue has known since 2017 that he has a conflict in working for Duke and Dominion. If they do a thorough job, the investigators will find it.”
Connie Leeper, NC WARN Organizing Director, said at the press conference: “It’s well-established that Duke Energy aimed the ACP at the part of North Carolina that’s disproportionally low-income and people of color. It’s unfortunate that Sen. Blue was helped Duke target people’s homes, diminish their property values and put their health and safety at risk.”
She added that the ethics issues relate directly to the many ways North Carolinians are being harmed by Duke executives’ decisions, such as perpetual rate hikes, air pollution, toxic coal ash, superstorms and other climate impacts made worse by Duke’s increasing use of fracked gas. “If successful, the ACP and SB 559 could enhance Duke Energy as a leading global driver of the accelerating climate crisis by helping to lock in its giant and reckless expansion of fossil fuels.”
NC WARN says resumption of ACP construction, which has been stalled for five months – and counting – by the December court ruling, could be impacted by the bill because provisions of it could shield Duke and Dominion from full risk if the troubled pipeline project collapses after heavy investments by the corporations.
The watchdog group says Duke’s long-running pattern – and key to its business model – is to manipulate political and civic leaders using a variety of tools and tons of money originating from customers. NC WARN and Friends of the Earth have an ongoing legal challenge against $80 million in annual “influence money” spending by Duke Energy.
Today, Leeper added: “Sen. Blue should have long ago recused himself from any legislative action regarding the electric utilities. Today we are calling on him to do so pending the outcome of this investigation. We are also calling on him to terminate all business practices involving Duke Energy and other utilities.”