Paul Newton, a long time employee of Duke Energy including President of Duke Energy North Carolina, is running for the North Carolina State Senate. If elected, he will join a growing list of former Duke Energy employees who have or are currently serving state government roles. This includes current Governor Pat McCrory, who worked for Duke Energy for over 25 years, and former House Majority Leader Mike Hager. Hager is widely credited with helping to kill third-party solar at the General Assembly, and introducing legislation after legislation attacking the state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS). 

As of March 2016, independent groups spent nearly $230,000 to promote Newton, mostly from the North Carolina Chamber and the North Carolina Property Rights Fund for his race in NC Senate District 36. In fact, the District 36 race is experiecing the highest outside spending of any state legislative district with $229,000 of a total of $258,000 spent supporting Newton.

Since 2012, North Carolina Chamber IE, the Chamber’s independent expenditure arm, spent over $1 million on behalf of NC candidates, while the North Carolina Chamber spent nearly $755,000 on behalf of candidates. For the 2016 election cycle, North Carolina Chamber IE has spent $85,764 on behalf of Newton, while the North Carolina Chamber spent $85,982 on behalf of Newton, which is far more than other candidates.

While NC Chamber IE has historically been involved in elections, this year is proving different for the North Carolina Chamber itself. It is spending significantly more money, with Newton benefiting from much of that spending. Most of the money has been spent on TV ads. The Chamber is a 501(c)(6) trade association that’s not required to disclose its donors, but Duke Energy is a frequest sponsor of its events and has donoted to the indepdent arm on many occasions. 

Paul’s Principles

On Paul Newton’s website, he lists “Paul’s Principles.” Some of these topics are lower taxes, smaller government, stronger families, and creating jobs.

Lower Taxes: Duke Energy paid a negative 3.3% tax rate from 2008 to 2012. In other words, even after earning over $9 billion in profits from 2008-2012, the company received nearly $300 million in tax rebates. North Carolina’s government, as well as its schools, universities, roads and other amenities, would certainly have to shrink if other companies followed Duke Energy’s “lead” in evading paying its fair share.

Stronger Families: In 2014, North Carolina ranked 38th in the U.S. in average annual income, which means that North Carolinians make only 86% of the national average of $46,129, or $39,646 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. In fact, only once since 2005 has North Carolina’s per capita personal income increased faster than the national rate. An analysis of labor data showed that although North Carolina added jobs, the majority were in low-paying industries. Cabarrus and Union Counties, which Newton would represent, have even lower incomes: Cabarrus at $26,165 (2010), and Union County at $28,596. Meanwhile, Newton must be financially strong, since he gave over $59,000 to various PACs since 2000. In a single year (2004), he donated $16,000 to various PACs, which is 40% of the average North Carolinian’s income.

Creating Jobs: Studies have repeatedly shown that the REPS, passed in 2007, created some 26,000 direct and indirect jobs and benefits of over $7 billion. Indeed, every $1.00 spent in tax benefits for the REPS returned $1.54 to state and local tax coffers.

Despite this obvious value to North Carolina in both jobs and investment, Newton’s former employer has argued repeatedly – either directly or via former employees, that clean, distributed energy hurts the poor. Two years ago, Paul Newton told NC’s Joint Legislative Committee on Energy Policy that solar customers are being subsidized by non-solar customers. So far, Duke Energy has succeeded in keeping third-party sales of solar power illegal in North Carolina. Third-party sales are also illegal in four of six Duke Energy statesFlorida, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and North Carolina.

While the Newton campaign says that he will focus on whether policies are “in the best interests of the citizens of North Carolina,” customers sent nearly $3 billion in 2014 out of state to purchase coal and natural gas. As Newton and his former employer bash solar, they ignore the huge cost to purchase staggering amounts of coal and natural gas for their fossil fuel generators. They also ignore the very real, current health and environmental costs, as well as future cost to our children in pollution and climate change.

Newton: Is What’s Good for Duke Energy Also Good For North Carolina?

Newton tells us that he will judge energy policy by asking “does it help North Carolina become the best state in America in which to do business?” North Carolina has certainly been a great state for Duke Energy to do business, though that’s not so true for its customers who have suffered from the company’s coal ash pollution. With a former employee as sitting Governor, the state’s top regulator a former utility attorney, and other high-level regulatory elected and appointed positions filled with industry insiders, Duke Energy has had no problem putting a few fingers on the scales of justice. Former Rep. Hager was Duke Energy’s top recipient of campaign cash, that honor could possibly go to Newton. 

As of the July 2016 reporting period, the Duke Energy PAC gave $9,100 to NC Committees, including an additional $3,000 to Paul Newton’s campaign.

Duke Energy Investing Heavily In Climate Deniers In Federal Races

At the federal level, Duke Energy is promoting climate deniers in Congress. The utility is  contributing to a leadership PAC associated with current North Carolina U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, as well as to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s campaign. Duke Energy is also giving, $150,000 so far, to the Senate Leadership Fund. The main goal of the fund is to protect and expand the Republican Senate Majority – a body of people who are on the record of rufusing to accept humanity’s role in global warming

The Senate Leadership Fund is currently attacking Deborah Ross, a Democrat challenging the seat held by incumbent Richard Burr. In addition to Burr voting against an amendment acknowledging the fact that climate change is real, he also “doesn’t think science can prove it.”

Will Paul Newton, as a state senator, deny climate change? Will he continue current Governor Pat McCrory’s efforts to let Duke Energy off the hook from its obligation to clean up coal ash contaminated water? Will he continue to ignore the hazards of leaving the vast majority of Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds in place?

Time will tell.

Posted by Nancy LaPlaca

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