Investigators move to next phase; Democrat is accused of promoting Duke Energy legislation and fracked gas pipeline while suing families for the corporation
State ethics investigators are moving forward on a complaint by NC WARN alleging an improper relationship between Duke Energy and Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue. The 2019 complaint says Blue was lead promoter of hotly contested – and ultimately failed – legislation sought by Duke Energy while his family law firm was suing 32 landowners to make way for the proposed Atlantic Coast fracked gas Pipeline (ACP).
Meanwhile, Sen. Blue’s firm is still suing families targeted by the beleaguered pipeline on behalf of its client, ACP, LLC, which is 95-percent owned by Duke Energy and Dominion Resources. And Duke Energy has continued using the favor-buying strategy it pursued before Senate Bill 559 was introduced last year, rewarding and punishing lawmakers in 2020 for supporting or opposing the $20 billion “ratepayer rip-off bill,” SB 559, that’s central to the complaint citing Blue.
The NC Ethics Commission and its investigators, slowed in 2019 by a complicated internal restructuring, have determined that NC WARN’s complaint has met the standards required to move forward and seek additional evidence.
A key question raised in the complaint: When exactly did Duke or Dominion begin talking with Sen. Blue about ACP legal work and/or about SB 559? Blue and other legislative leaders urged federal regulators to approve the ACP in a 2017 letter sent only months before the eminent domain lawsuits were filed by his firm for Duke and Dominion.
NC WARN consulted several political ethics experts prior to filing the complaint in May 2019. The ethics issue remains clear-cut: Sen. Blue was being paid by two giant energy corporations while promoting their highly controversial interests as an elected legislative leader. Additional evidence will show that Blue has known since 2017 that he has a conflict in working for Duke and Dominion.
During 2019, the Energy Justice NC Coalition, which includes NC WARN, ran statewide ads pointing to the prominent roles played by Sen. Blue, NC Senate president pro tem Phil Berger, Sen. David Lewis and NC House speaker Tim Moore in promoting SB 559, and how Duke boosted its campaign contributions to them in the lead-up to the bill. The original bill would have allowed Duke to raise electric rates in 5-year blocks and with diminished regulatory oversight.
The ethics complaint does not address Duke’s campaign contributions, but it does go to the heart of the Duke monopoly’s business model and its efforts to charge captive customers for tens of billions of dollars’ worth of projects, from coal ash to power plants to $13 billion in unneeded grid improvements.
Construction of the climate-wrecking ACP – with cost estimates soaring to nearly $8 billion – has been stalled for 18 months by multiple legal challenges based on corner-cutting efforts by Duke and Dominion. If completed, the pipeline would cost Duke’s NC customers $20 billion in the first 20 years, and despite persistent claims by the corporations and other promoters, it would not provide gas for economic development in eastern communities or anywhere else. The gas is set to be burned in power plants.
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 could enhance Duke Energy as a leading driver of the climate crisis by helping to lock in its giant expansion of fossil fuels and suppression of cheaper renewables-plus-storage.
Duke Energy’s long-running pattern is to buy favor with political and civic leaders. NC WARN and Friends of the Earth expect a Utilities Commission ruling any day in our legal challenge against an estimated $80 million in annual influence spending by Duke Energy.
As Connie Leeper, NC WARN Organizing Director, said when we filed the complaint citing Sen. Blue, “It is 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 has helped Duke target people’s homes, diminish their property values and put their health and safety at risk.”
Senator Blue has done many good things for the people of North Carolina. But his relationship with Duke Energy and families along the ACP route is quite problematic.