Why Money in Politics Means More Fracking: A Cautionary Tale From North Carolina
by Caroline Hansley
August 4, 2016
In North Carolina, constituents and ratepayers are concerned Governor Pat McCrory's administration is too partial to utility monopoly Duke Energy.
North Carolina’s Governor McCrory, a former Duke Employee of 28 years, has been a vocal advocate of natural gas expansion and fossil fuel extraction. He supported legislation that would legalize hydraulic fracturing (fracking) as well as legislation that eases the approval process for Duke Energy to build new gas plants. In addition, he has strong ties to groups working for the expansion of the gas industry: Duke Energy, Americans for Prosperity, Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalitions, and Moore & VanAllen.
If the connections weren’t close enough, the Moore & Van Allen law firm is currently representing Duke and Piedmont in the Duke and Piedmont merger proceedings.
Here’s the problem: a proposed merger between Duke Energy & Piedmont Natural Gas.
This consolidation of power power by the state’s energy monopoly would lead to more fracking and fossil fuel expansion in the state.
Community members staged a wedding themed protest showing how unifying the entities would also increase the close connections between the McCrory Administration and utility interests. With the symbolic breaking apart of the mock “monopoly marriage” constituents and ratepayers issued the demand for energy choice and democratic governance.
Over the last few years, we have seen a rapid expansion of this monopoly power’s influence correlated with the expansion of more fossil fuels.
The National Trend Towards Natural Gas
We’re seeing a national trend of investor owned utilities buying gas companies.
From the Mountain West to the Southeast, utility companies are rapidly trying to gobble up as many as they can. In North Carolina, the proposed merger would not only consolidate the customer base of two utilities but also their political clout. Duke Energy is among the top campaign contributors in North Carolina, having spent more than $200,000 on legislative political campaigns in the first quarter of 2016 alone. Both companies give generously to state and national races and combined have given nearly $100,000 to this year’s gubernatorial candidates over the course of their political careers.
This is a prime example of why we need to get money out of and people into our democracy.
And Another Reason More Gas Is a Big Deal
A new report highlights this key fact: stopping new gas infrastructure is critical to the hit the U.S. climate goals. Just in Duke Energy’s 15-year long term plans, the utility projects adding up to 9 new gas plants. Even sooner than that, it projects adding many more gas projects to its grid by 2021, despite growth in electricity demand being down.
To top it off, Duke Energy is only planning to have a total of 4 percent renewable energy capacity in 2030. A far cry from what many reports have shown is possible.
In the Southeast, Duke Energy is trying to sell new gas plants as ‘greener’ and is marketing them to institutions of higher-education, many of whom have likely made commitments to carbon neutrality. But students and community members are fighting back, and so are we. Across North Carolina, people are speaking out against a takeover of our democracy.
As election season heats up, we’re working to get fossil fuels out of our elections for energy justice.
The oil and gas industry is willing to pour millions of dollars towards snuffing out democracy. In Colorado everyday people are fighting corporations who are going to great measures to control politics and thwart people power. In North Carolina, Governor McCrory and lawmakers with ties to the utility monopoly have repeatedly sided with Duke Energy over the demands of the people. Groups connected to the Koch brothers support expanded oil and gas drilling and have been working to undermine democracy for decades.
This kind of corporate influence, where utilities are able to buy access to our politicians, gives polluters political power to put a stranglehold on our democracy and turn outcomes in their favor.
When it comes to our future, no matter what state you live in, we need a democracy that works for everyone, a clean and just energy future, and a government that listens to the people over polluters. It’s time to #fixdemocracy in every state!