For Immediate Release, November 22, 2019


Howard Crystal, (202) 809-6926,

Legal Action Challenges North Carolina Utilities’ Unlawful Use of Ratepayer Funds

Political Spending Violates Customers’ First Amendment Rights, Harms Climate

RALEIGH, N.C.— The Center for Biological Diversity today submitted a brief to the North Carolina Utilities Commission arguing that utilities cannot use ratepayer funds for trade association dues as it violates customers’ First Amendment rights. Money from ratepayers is frequently channeled into campaigns against rooftop solar.

The brief responds to regulations proposed by the commission in August, which would, for the first time, prohibit investor-owned utilities like Duke Energy from charging customers for lobbying and political contributions. It argues that more restrictions are necessary to protect utility customers, as charging for membership in industry trade groups, like the Edison Electric Institute, also violates the law. These groups frequently use funding to oppose renewable energy and other efforts to combat the climate crisis.

“Duke is funneling ratepayers’ money to trade groups as a backchannel way to attack environmental protections and buy political influence,” said Howard Crystal, a senior attorney at the Center. “Edison Electric Institute and similar trade associations spend millions of dollars a year fighting air and water safeguards while propping up dirty fossil fuels. North Carolinians shouldn’t be expected to bank-roll lobbying and propaganda that will fuel even more climate chaos and pollution.”

Duke Energy, the second-largest electric utility in the world, generates 90 percent of the electricity used in North Carolina and emits more carbon pollution than any other U.S. utility. Duke often wields its political influence to block competition from cheaper, cleaner renewable energy sources. It has also pushed for projects like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would cut through North Carolina communities.

“Our members and supporters in North Carolina have suffered enough from monster hurricanes and toxic coal ash contamination,” Crystal said. “They want to break free of dirty energy, but Duke is using their utility payments to rig the system in favor of fossil fuels that threaten the planet.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.