Skip to main content

“The Utility of Giving” – Air Quality & Political Money from Duke Power and CP&L

As a backdrop for how North Carolina got where it is in the lax regulation of power plants, and why the legislature and Gov. Jim Hunt have not taken bolder steps sooner, and what opposition environmentalists face, here’s a look at the political clout of Carolina Power & Light and Duke Power.

» Based on political spending over the past decade, CP&L and Duke sponsor the two biggest corporate PACs in North Carolina; they are the most politically active companies in the state in terms of direct political donations to state officials and candidates. CP&L’s total is $800,500 for 1989-1998 and Duke’s is $782,700. [RJReynolds and Glaxo are bigger players nationally because of the large soft money donations they make to the national parties from their corporate treasuries, not their PACs.]

» More than half the members of the current General Assembly count the PACs of Duke and/or CP&L among their 10 highest-dollar donors. [It’s 100 out of the 170 members elected in 1998.]

» Both CP&L and Duke gave Gov. Jim Hunt the maximum $8,000 donation in his 1996 reelection bid. Adding in their executives and lobbyists, company-related donations to Hunt have topped $100,000 since 1990. [Which may explain why Hunt waited until his last year in office before deciding to “crack down” on the utilities.]

» In addition to the $1.5 million given by the PACs of Duke Power and CP&L between 1989 and 1998, their company executives and lobbyists have given in excess of $500,000 in the last decade, which pushes the total figure beyond $2 million.

» Duke and CP&L retain several in-house and contract lobbyists, including Zeb Alley – who works for both firms and is consistently ranked the “most influential” lobbyist by political insiders in the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research’s survey – and Don Beason and John Bode, who rank in the top 6.

» Overall, the CP&L and Duke PACs rank as the 4th and 5th largest for political spending in the last decade. The top three spots are filled by the PACs of various professions: the Academy of Trial Lawyers, the N.C. Association of Educators, and the N.C. Realtors.

» For comparison, here are a few other PAC totals for 1989-98: Bank of America/NationsBank – $644,500; First Union – $522,500; N.C. Medical Society – $463,300; Jefferson Pilot – $333,600; Manufactured Housing Assn. of NC – $236,500; N.C. Textile Manufacturers Assn – $215,740. So Duke+CP&L exceeds First Union+BankAmerica+Textile Manufacturers Association.

» Executives at the two utilities are major fundraisers and routinely fill policy and advisory board positions in state government. Former CP&L executive Barbara Allen is now chair of the state Democratic Party; the William S. Lee Act, the law allowing controversial subsidies for corporations locating in North Carolina, is named for Duke’s former CEO.

Why is it Critical to Clean Up Power-Plant Smokestacks?

The following 2001 information was provided by North Carolina PIRG,
For more information contact NC PIRG at 919-933-5889.

Coal-fired power plants, owned by Duke Power and CP&L, are the state’s largest industrial source of smog, soot and mercury. Yet none of North Carolina’s 14 plants are required by law to meet modern pollution standards that would protect public health. Installing modern pollution controls in coal-fired plants would have the same effect as taking 6 million cars off North Carolina’s roads. (US Environmental Protection Agency)

Smog triggers an estimated 240,000 asthma attacks every summer. (Abt Associates)
Charlotte is the 8th smoggiest metro region in the nation. (American Lung Association)
45% of the state’s smog-forming nitrogen oxide pollution is emitted by coal-fired power plants. (North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources)

Soot pollution sends an estimated 1200 people to the hospital each year.
Power plant soot triggers an estimated 1800 premature deaths in North Carolina each year. (Clean Air Task Force)
82% of the Southeast’s soot-forming sulfur dioxide pollution is emitted by coal-fired power plants. (Southern Appalachian Mountains Initiative)

1800 newborns statewide are threatened with neurological disorders from mercury pollution. (National Academy of Sciences)
65% of the state’s mercury pollution is emitted by coal-fired power plants. (North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources)