03:20 PM EDT on Wednesday, August 29, 2007
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Duke Energy Corp. could match or surpass the record $2.39 million it spent in 2002 trying to influence federal legislation as the utility faces potentially costly regulations touted this year by a Democratic Congress.
The Charlotte-based company spent about $1.15 million on lobbying in the first half of 2007, according to its federal lobbying disclosure statement filed this month.
The money includes paying employees for hours spent talking to lawmakers about legislation, hiring firms to lobby on behalf of the company, and renting 5,000 square feet of office space near the Capitol.
Of the utility’s chief concern are several bills supported by Democratic leaders that would regulate carbon dioxide. Most of the
electricity produced by Duke Energy comes from coal-fired plants that are chief producers of carbon dioxide, which is spewed from smokestacks and considered a cause in rising temperatures and environmental problems.
The utility spent $2.16 million on lobbying efforts the year a Republican-led Congress passed President Bush’s Energy Policy Act of 2005. The legislation provides incentives for building nuclear power plants and certain coal-fired plants that use cleaner technologies.
Duke Energy’s all-time high of $2.39 million came as Bush pledged big changes to the nation’s energy policy in 2002, in the wake of the scandal surrounding energy trader Enron Corp.
Critics argue that the industry’s intense lobbying is too influential in shaping energy policy, but Duke Energy says it has the right to protect its interests and those of its customers. The utility argues that more regulations would bring higher consumer costs.
“It’s our intention to be involved in the political process,” said Duke Energy spokesman Tom Williams.
Big-dollar spending on lobbying is common for the utility industry, which has been among the top four leading spenders since 1998, according to opensecrets.org, a nonprofit group that tracks the spending. The utility industry spent $104.6 million last year, ranking it fourth among industries, according to the group’s data.
“We’re extremely regulated, and we’re part of the vital infrastructure,” said Ed Legge, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, which represents 95 percent of the nation’s publicly traded power companies. “We’re everywhere.”