In perhaps the most public rebuke of Duke’s overstuffed environmental rhetoric to date, Dow Jones booted Duke from its list of greenest companies in the world today. As least as far as Dow Jones is concerned, Duke can no longer claim the mantle of ‘global leader’ in sustainability. When it comes to toxic pollution and climate change, Rogers and Duke Energy need to get out of denial and into action on behalf of the more than 7 million households they serve.
Unfortunately, Duke remained on the North American list, which underscores the paucity of good actors in America’s utility sector. While others who made the list are jettisoning coal faster than Duke, cohorts AEP, Southern Company and GenOn continue to operate some of the nation’s filthiest power plants. Duke, AEP and Southern also remain the largest greenhouse gas and sulfur dioxide emitters in the US. How the nation’s largest utility polluters and ExxonMobil can make the list certainly demands further explanation.
For Duke customers living in the Carolinas, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, many would be shocked that Duke would have made the list in the first place. Certainly this would surprise Sara Behnke and her eleven year-old daughter, Anna. The Behnke’s live in the shadow of Duke’s Riverbend coal plant, outside Charlotte, and the coal ash dumps that may be contaminating nearby groundwater. When the Behnke’s confronted Rogers at the last Duke shareholders’ meeting in May, Rogers dismissed any connection between the coal ash ponds and Sara’s cancer.
The situation in Ohio remains similarly bleak, as Duke’s Walter C. Beckjord coal plant tripled its sulfur dioxide emissions between 2008 to 2011. So far this year, Beckjord has emitted more of the acidifying compound than all but one plant in the country. In Florida, Duke executives have stood behind a plan for a new $24bn nuclear plant, as the Crystal River nuclear reactor that its recently acquired Progress Energy Florida unit critically damaged and could require over $1bn in repairs remains offline.
Reducing emissions of greenhouse gas emissions and toxic pollution takes work, investment and innovation, not flowery rhetoric and a simple rehashing of failed strategies. Empty promises and denial will not wish away the challenge of addressing climate change while promoting human health and economic development. What is needed is a credible plan, which Greenpeace proposed in July. That plan showed how Duke could save its customers in the Carolinas $108bn over 20 years by showing national leadership in adopting renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Instead of offering solutions in Duke’s latest 20-year plan, Rogers & Company offered no change. Duke plans to raise rates in the Carolinas and Ohio yet again so it can hold on to dirty energy. You would think that flying a giant airship in the skies above Cincinnati and across North Carolina would have communicated “Cleaner is Cheaper” loud and clear to Duke Energy. Apparently not loud enough. For Duke customers, more importantly than just cheaper, cleaner means that the Behnke’s can swim in Mountain Island Lake without fearing toxins. Cleaner means Cincinnati powered with 100% renewable energy. Cleaner means spending $24bn for solar, not nukes, in the Sunshine State. Cleaner means Rogers & Company quitting coal and going 33% renewable by 2020. Now that’s leadership worthy of any index.