Post Written By: Michael Zytkow, member of Occupy Charlotte, crossposted from Quit Coal.
You may have recently noticed that Duke Energy, the nation's largest utility, launched a major advertising campaign. This includes airing their first television commercials in 15 years. In light of the controversy surrounding their merger with Progress energy, it comes as no surprise they would attempt to repair their public image.
The ads all begin with someone flipping a power switch. A narrator explains how we “don't think about what it's connected to or how the power gets there,” but instead about what really matters in life, like family reunions, your son's basketball game, proposing to your wife... I think you get the idea. These ads try to illicit an emotional connection between us and Duke. Each ad ends with the line “You don't think about all that's going on behind that switch, because we do.”
Well Duke, we actually do “think about all that's going on behind that switch.” Last week, concerned members of the community came out to discuss the ways Duke works behind the scenes to maximize its bottom line. More importantly, we discussed what we as a community can do about it.
The meeting was held in Charlotte, NC, where Duke Energy has its headquarters. Greenpeace's NC field organizer, Monica Embrey, began by giving an overview of Duke's relationship with dirty energy. Duke owns dozens of coal-fired power plants, many just outside of Charlotte. Coal is the leading contributor to climate change, and releases harmful toxins into our water and air. This coal is obtained through a destructive strip-mining technique known as mountaintop removal . Embrey explained how we pay for dirty energy not only through out utility bills but ultimately through our healthcare costs.
Beth Henry, one of the leading experts on Duke, discussed how Duke uses our money to buy access to politicians in order to influence policy. Duke is on pace to become North Carolina’s largest political spender after having recently merged with Progress Energy. In the 2009-2010 election cycle, the companies collectively spent over $19 million on lobbying and state and federal campaigns. The company has a number of links to members of the NC Utilities Commission, a group that is supposed to regulate the industry. Henry explained how Duke has a long history of influencing legislators and regulators in its favor. Duke truly epitomizes the idea of the revolving door.
Henry also highlighted Duke's relationship with universities and charities. Duke essentially purchases allies and good PR through their contributions. Many of these institutions are beholden to Duke for funding. She gave specific examples of organizations reluctant to act or speak out against Duke due to this relationship.
I spoke about the relationship between Duke and the Democratic National Convention, which will be held in Charlotte. Duke's CEO, Jim Rogers, has been intimately involved in the fundraising process. He is co-chair of the the convention host committee and has personally given $100,000 to the group. Rogers has paid out of his own pocket to hire a personal assistant to work full-time on DNC fundraising. In fact, Duke is providing $1 million worth of uptown office space, rent-free, for the entire host committee. The company has even guaranteed the host committee a $10 million line of credit in case their fundraising runs short. Duke is also one of the leading contributors to New American City, Inc., a fund setup by the host committee in order to accept corporate money.
Tony Ndege, of Occupy Winston-Salem, described the troubling relationship between Duke and the American Legislative Exchange Council. Ndege explained how ALEC is essentially a corporate bill mill where corporations and special interests help craft model legislation. Duke has helped create bills attacking environmental regulations and attempts to reduce greenhouse emmissions. Corporations like Duke fund most of ALEC's operations. They sponsored ALEC's 2012 spring meeting in Charlotte. Duke has given ALEC $116,000 since 2009, according to the Charlotte Business Journal.
Afterward, members of the community engaged in an open discussion. People suggested what we can do to fight back against the destructive effects of dirty energy. Updates were given about key actions taking place around the state and nation. People were energized, inspired, and ready to act.
Now more than ever, people in Charlotte know what's “going on behind that switch.” No amount of Duke propaganda will hide the true facts of how they operate.
Missed the event but still want to hear what happened? Check out the video recorded live stream here.