Fracking interests spent heavily to influence NC lawmakers
With the debate over fracking for natural gas heating up at the North Carolina legislature, a new report from an elections watchdog group documents the industry’s generous contributions to lawmakers’ campaigns.
Legislators who supported a pro-fracking bill last year received more than triple the amount of campaign money from fracking interests than opponents of the bill, according to a report released today by North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections (NCVCE). In all, the political action committees of companies with an interest in fracking contributed to the campaigns of more than 100 N.C. legislators between 2009 and 2011 — over $730,000 in all.
“Although we have great disclosure laws in this state, the public doesn’t always make the connection between special interests and legislation being produced,” says NCVCE Executive Director Melissa Price-Kromm. “We did this study to help the public make that connection.
The study looked at 10 companies with an interest in fracking. They are natural gas companies PSNC Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas; electric utilities Progress Energy, Duke Energy and Dominion Resources, which are expanding their use of natural gas to produce power; General Electric, which has invested in natural gas reserves in other states and introduced a mobile evaporator to help gas drillers recycle water; Weyerhaeuser, a major landowner that has invested in shale deposits; natural gas producer Koch Industries; and railroad companies Norfolk Southern and CSX, which are seeing an increase in fracking-related shipping.
The study comes a week after the state’s Legislative Research Commission approved Senate Bill 820 sponsored by Sen. Robert Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) that would allow fracking in the state, where it’s now banned, within two years. A leading proponent of fracking, Rucho (in photo) was also the sponsor of Senate Bill 709, the pro-fracking bill from 2011. While the House and Senate passed SB 709, Gov. Beverly Perdue (D) vetoed it, and the House was unable to muster the votes for an override.
Rucho received a total of $20,500 from the companies the NCVCE study considered. Other top recipients of the industry’s contributions were Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R), who received $46,700, and House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), who received $43,650. Berger and Tillis played key roles in advancing pro-fracking legislation.
Between 2009 and 2011, the 10 fracking-related firms donated a total of $508,600 to the campaigns of N.C. House and Senate members who voted for SB 709, and $141,550 to those who voted against it.
To read the NCVCE report, titled “Power Politics: Fracking debate fuels campaign gifts to N.C. lawmakers from energy interests,” click here.
Group: N.C. legislators bagged $600k+ in campaign money from fracking proponents
Triangle Business Journal by Chris Bagley, Staff Writer
Date: Friday, May 25, 2012
Companies in energy and related industries donated nearly $600,000 to the campaigns of North Carolina legislators who are interested in green-lighting a new and controversial method of extracting natural gas, according to an advocacy group that tracks campaign spending.
The group, North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, counted donations totaling $209,000 to state senators and $300,000 to representatives who voted for the 2011 Energy Jobs Act, which authorized studies of hydraulic fracturing. Also known as “fracking,” the technique shoots a mixture of water and chemical solvents into underground rock, where it releases methane, propane and other fossil fuels. In North Carolina, such gas deposits are concentrated in an underground ribbon that runs from near Laurinburg, up along the western edge of Wake County, through Durham and then northward.
Fracking in Pennsylvania and other Appalachian states has been credited with driving down prices of those fuels nationwide, but environmentalists and some neighbors have also said the technique degrades water quality.
NCVCE’s analysis included donations made during the years 2009, 2010 and 2011. It included donations to House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) even though, for procedural reasons, they did not vote on the bill.
The advocacy group counted donations by the electrical utilities Progress Energy Inc. (NYSE: PGN), Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE: DUK) and Dominion Resources Inc. (NYSE: D); the gas companies PSNC Energy (NYSE: SCG) and Piedmont Natural Gas Co. Inc. (NYSE: PNY); the railroads CSX Corp. (NYSE: CSX) and Norfolk Southern Corp. (NYSE: NSC); the industrial conglomerates Weyerhaeuser Co. (NYSE: WY), General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) and privately held Koch Industries.
The 10 companies’ donations were not specifically tied to the fracking bill. They donated a total of $91,000 to representatives who voted against the bill and $50,000 to senators who opposed it.
Progress was the largest corporate donor, both among legislative supporters and among opponents.
Both houses passed the bill but were not able to muster the supermajorities necessary to override the veto by Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue. They’re expected to take up the issue again in 2012.