Only five months ago Duke Energy was responsible for the third largest coal ash spill in U.S. history. North Carolina residents have made it clear they want Duke to pay for its coal ash problem. Yet once again, state legislators are failing to heed the people’s call. And once again, Duke’s corrupting influence is part of the problem.
Yesterday, the North Carolina House Environment Committee forwarded Senate Bill 729, the General Assembly’s proposal for handling coal ash from Duke power plants. It’s a negative development, as the bill contains major weaknesses. Only 4 of the Duke’s 14 coal ash sites would be guaranteed to be cleared out and moved to properly managed sites. The remaining sites could be left in place to pollute neighboring groundwater. To make matters worse, the bill allows Duke to recover costs for the entire cleanup through the North Carolina Utilities Commission (estimated at around $10 billion).
Duke’s corrupting influence continues to put polluters over people. This round centers around the Speaker of the House Thom Tillis (R-NC91).
Tillis Leading for Duke & Not North Carolina
Elected as a member of the Republican majority, Speaker Tillis holds a powerful role in the House. In particular, he sets the agenda for the debates across the entire chamber. If Tillis likes a bill, its chances of passing greatly increase. That fact played out when Tillis endorsed Governor McCrory backed bills at a joint press conference where they failed to propose tougher coal ash regulations.
But Tillis is also set to be a powerful ally of Duke. The company is Tillis’ second largest donor outside himself, contributing $34,250 to Tillis over his career. Tillis also sits on the board of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a “bill mill” that ghostwrites legislation in favor of member corporations such as Duke. (Duke will not confirm or deny whether is it still a member of ALEC, though it has been in the past and the two march in lockstep together on many energy issues.) ALEC helped Duke block EPA proposals for coal ash regulation following the nation’s largest ever coal ash spill in Tennessee. And with Tillis running the NC House, ALEC is once again poised to hold back necessary protections from coal ash.
A recent poll found that 82% of voters “would have good reason to vote AGAINST a candidate who allows Duke Energy to pass the cost of cleaning up its coal ash sites to its customers or the public.” That result should worry Tillis, who is running for election to the U.S. Senate this November. If the speaker can’t put people over polluters, the people could find someone else who will.