Is Duke Energy dictating the terms of our democracy?

by Robert Gardner

June 18, 2012

If things go as planned, Duke Energy will be the largest coal-fired utility by April 2015. They are also leading the fundraising effort for the Democratic National Convention (DNC).

Those two shouldnt mesh so easily.

Though folks down in North Carolina are keenly aware of Duke — you might not be. Some people know them from their violent role in breaking miner strikes during the Harlan County strike, as seen in the 1970s movie Harlan County, USA.

Some folks know Duke from the failed climate policy debate of a few years back.

But at its core, Duke is a North Carolina-based electric utility that serves customers throughout the Carolinas, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. Right now, the company is in the process of merging with another North Carolina based company, Progress Energy, which provides electricity to customers in the Carolinas and Florida. This merger will make Duke the largest power company in the country.

The merger is slated to be complete in July of this year.

If Duke and Progress werent so coal heavy, that wouldnt necessarily be a bad thing. But they are, and thats a problem. Especially when your CEO is Jim Rogers, who speaks so elegantly about the need for business (specifically his business) to prevent catastrophic climate change — yet paradoxically, is still building coal plants in Indiana and North Carolina.

It’s also a problem when Duke Energy floated a $10 million loan to the Democrats to have their convention in Charlotte, Duke’s HQ. Together, the companies spent $19 million on state and federal campaigns and lobbying in the 2009-10 election cycle, including a remarkable 115 of the 170 state legislators elected in 2010.

Looks like the Democratic Convention will be coal-fired in many ways.

Now, ex-Duke employee and Republican candidate Pat McCrory is running for governor of the state. His bigoted stance toward gay marriage aside his candidacy is a remarkable assault on the separation of corporation and state.

Duke Energy has gained proximate control over the policymaking arms of North Carolina, and having paid so much to the Democratic Party, is poised to have President Obamas ear as well.

That’s an unacceptable breach of the public charge by our government — both state and federal. Unfortunately, I’m certain both are comfortable with being beholden to one another.

However, we are not — and Greenpeace, like so many out there, are poised for action.

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