The state Senate vote yesterday on Duke Energy’s highly controversial “alternative ratemaking” bill and subsequent appointments to a conference committee clearly show the utility company’s undue influence over the legislative and public policy process, says the Energy Justice for North Carolina (EJNC) coalition.
The Senate voted 31-14 not to concur with the amended version of Senate Bill 559 passed by the House of Representatives last week that was largely viewed as a bi-partisan way forward after months of public opposition to the original bill passed by the Senate in May. Both the House and Senate have appointed conferees to negotiate a revised version of the bill.
State campaign finance data show that three of the five Senate appointees were among the top five recipients of Duke’s campaign donations to state senators in the 2018 election cycle — Bill Rabon and Dan Blue, who are the primary sponsors of the bill, and Paul Newton, former North Carolina President for Duke Energy as recently as 2015. As detailed in EJNC’s “Monopoly Money: Part 2” July report, Duke contributed $48,500 to those three campaigns for the last election, and a total of nearly $132,000 since 2007. Senator Ralph Hise, another sponsor of Duke’s bill and conference appointee, received $6,000 and $20,500, respectively.
A recent ethics complaint filed by NC WARN asserts that Senator Blue’s actions to promote Duke’s controversial bill are unethical given that his law firm is reaping lucrative legal fees for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, for which Duke Energy is a majority owner.
“This whole situation, and the continued pressure to pass Duke’s bill by these senators is a slap in the face to our democracy and how policies should be made, especially when those policies could end up costing families and businesses billions in extra energy costs just to pad the pockets of Duke’s shareholders,” said Bobby Jones, President of Down East Coal Ash Coalition. “As a citizen who has traveled across the state talking to fellow citizens about their utilities, I’d like to ask our elected officials, especially the state Senate: do you value your financial relationship with Duke above your sworn duty to represent the citizens of North Carolina? If you do, then end this now because everybody is watching!”
“The House approved all the components of the bill that benefited consumers, and wisely stripped out the controversial parts for a more thorough study. It’s confounding that the senators would reject that approach, but for their track record of raking in campaign donations,” said Rory McIlmoil, Senior Energy Analyst for Appalachian Voices. “These senators, especially Senators Blue and Newton, should be recusing themselves from the process. Instead they’re now sitting more firmly in the driver’s seat.”
The conference committee is charged with drafting a report that is intended to represent a compromise between the original bill passed by the Senate in May, and the amended version the House passed last week. The committee could finish its work as early as this week; both chambers would then have to vote on the compromise bill before it goes to the governor.
The Energy Justice for North Carolina Coalition supports the House version because it protects ratepayers from the ongoing rate hikes and reduced accountability for Duke included in the original bill.