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Group Asks NC Attorney General to Investigate Possible Conflicts of Interest Behind NC’s Rush to Frack
RALEIGH, NC - April 4 - Some of North Carolina’s State legislators have been rather hurried in their efforts to open up North Carolina to drilling and fracking for natural gas, leading many residents to wonder why. Today, Food & Water Watch submitted a letter to North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper that outlines serious conflicts of interest and a “pattern of political patronage” among public officials in the Governor’s administration, on the Mining and Energy Commission, and in the General Assembly. The letter calls on Attorney General Cooper to investigate the conflicts of interests presented by the financial ties of prominent figures pushing fracking in North Carolina.
“Last year’s legislature made a promise to the people of North Carolina to learn more about the negative impacts of fracking in the state before it could be allowed, and passed a two year moratorium that would be followed by a vote,” said Jorge Aguilar, the Southern Region Director at Food & Water Watch. “Now, leadership in Raleigh is breaking that promise. How can we trust these public officials to give the issue the serious attention it deserves if they stand to gain from opening up the state to fracking in the first place?”
The conflicts of interest and political patronage start with Governor McCrory, who spent almost 30 years at Duke Energy, a natural gas distributor and the largest electric power company in the United States. While doubling as Mayor of Charlotte and an employee of Duke Energy, McCrory took action twice against regulations that would have made operations more costly for his company. He has since retired from Duke Energy, but he received over $240,000 from the company, its PAC, and its employees and their families in campaign contributions during his campaign for governor. Also, his Statement of Economic Interest indicates that he has over $10,000 at stake in Duke Energy and in Spectra, a company in the natural gas pipeline industry.
Several officials in high-level positions in North Carolina’s State Government also have very strong ties to the energy industry, including three longtime former Duke Energy employees: Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker, Office of State Personnel Director Neal Alexander and Senior Economic Advisor Tony Almeida. McCrory also appointed North Carolina Budget Director Art Pope, a multimillionaire with investments in ConocoPhillips, Exelon Corporation, and BP Prudhoe Bay Royalty Trust.
The industry ties do not end there. Several appointed members of the Mining and Energy Commission (MEC), including two that are supposed to represent the views of nongovernmental conservation efforts, stand to gain from fracking in North Carolina. MEC member Ray Covington has a company that aims to help landowners negotiate drilling leases in exchange for a share of any profits. MEC member George Howard has a company that specializes in trying to restore streams and wetlands damaged by industrial activity, including from oil and gas industry operations.
The North Carolina state legislature itself is considering a bill (SB10) that would give Governor McCrory the power to replace members of state government commissions with his own appointments. Over 40 members have participated in meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that helps corporations craft their ideal legislation and then have it introduced by participating legislators. According to Greenpeace, Duke Energy and its affiliate Progress Energy gave a total of $102,500 in contributions to Sen. Tom Apodaca and the two other lead sponsors of SB 10, which would remove current members of the Coastal Resources Commission and the Utilities Commission, allowing McCrory to remake them as he sees fit. Sen. Apodaca alone has hauled in $72,300 from Duke Energy, Progress Energy, and PSNC Energy from 2004-2012.
“Before North Carolina starts granting permits to the fracking industry, voters have a right to know the truth about who in our leadership stands to gain financially,” said Food & Water Watch’s Aguilar. “We also have a right to put public health and the environment ahead of the conflicted interests of a select few who are leading the push to frack North Carolina. The North Carolina Department of Justice should investigate the aforementioned conflicts of interest in regard to the development of fracking regulations in North Carolina.”
View a copy of the letter to Attorney General Cooper here: http://fwwat.ch/14Hafx9