On this Tax Day, we at Greenpeace US would like to reflect on just how easy it is to be a major polluter in this country. It seems you can get away with devastating ecosystems and racking up health, environmental, and social costs on ordinary Americans, make enormous profits, all while—get this—paying no taxes.
Take Duke Energy, for instance, the country’s largest utility. About 45% of all its electricity generation is through burning coal, which, as you probably know, comes with a host of costs that Duke has almost no responsibility to pay. Damaging the health of people near mines and power plants through air and water pollution? Contributing to the global destruction associated with climate change? Decimating whole ecosystems through mining and giant spills of toxins? Not Duke’s problem.
Instead, what does it get for its trouble? How about a tax rebate?
That’s right. Between 2008 and 2012, Duke posted profits of $9 billion and, instead of paying a penny of taxes, received almost $300 million back from the US government. For regular readers, this should come as no surprise. In fact, we posted about Duke’s tax fortunes last year.
Speaking environmentally and legally, Duke has had a disastrous year in North Carolina. First, one of its massive coal-ash impoundments failed, dumping about 40,000 tons of toxic coal byproducts into a beloved river. River wildlife was buried under ash, people’s drinking water was compromised, and a river essential to the lives of human and non-human residents alike was altered for the foreseeable future.
And the spill at the Dan River is not Duke’s only water disaster in the state of North Carolina. All 14 of its coal ash sites are leaking toxins into the state’s waterways. For years, environmental groups have been fighting to get Duke to clean up its own messes, and for years Duke has been in bed with state environmental regulators to do nothing.
Finally, just last month, a state judge ordered North Carolina’s Environmental Management Commission to acknowledge its authority to force Duke to stop its pollution immediately. What did the Commission do? It joined Duke in an appealing the ruling.
So Duke fouls North Carolina’s water and air, accelerates climate change for all of us, leaves the costs of cleaning it all up to the public, lobbies with the American Legislative Exchange Council to stymie effective renewables policies, occasionally is responsible for a massive disaster (you know, NBD), and gets to not pay taxes. It’s incredible. If the company weren’t such a bad apple, you’d almost admire it for its total lack of shame.
Like maybe Duke would be really good at beer pong or karaoke?
But when it comes to fair deals, the public interest, or stewardship of our environment? Um, no.
So on Tax Day, we look to Duke Energy. Duke, you are a model to every rich, loud, littering, careless, shameless drunk dude in the world.