By Marc Jampole
Duke Energy just doesn’t give a gnat’s posterior. Not for public safety, not for the law.
Duke Energy flaunts its lawlessness like ancient King David and Bathsheba flaunting their adultery by cavorting in the streets.
Duke, the largest electrical power company in thecountry, illegally pumped as much as 61 million gallons of coal-ash wastewaterinto Cape Fear. Duke did it on purpose and now it’s denying it, saying it was just routine maintenance. But the usually-moribund North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources and environmental groups have Duke caught red-handed.
This latest release of dirty water by Duke comes on the heels of its massive spill of toxic coal ash into the Dan River a few weeks back. The federal government is investigating that reportedly accidental release, which resulted from the rupture of a pipe. So far Duke and North Carolina state regulators are sharing blame for the poor maintenance that led to the rupture.
Letting maintenance slide has become the norm in the age of low taxes on the wealthy. Lots of communities in the Unites States are used to that. Think about New Orleans levees before Katrina or the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis.
But in its latest willful polluting of our water, Duke acted alone, and now even North Carolina state regulators are pissed off.
What are we to make of Duke’s flagrant violation of state and federal environmental regulations? Was Duke’s management emboldened by weak enforcement under the rabidly anti-regulation Republican Governor Pat McCrory, who previously worked for Duke? Or perhaps they thought the Republican legislature would eventually pass a law exempting Duke from following any environmental or product safety laws? And why not? Duke contributed to the election campaigns of most of them.
Duke Energy is a corporation, but a corporation is run by people. One reason that Duke’s executives such as Chairman of the Board Ann Maynard Gray and Chief Executive Officer Lynne J. Good think they can act with impunity is that have no fear of real consequences. Even if fired summarily by the board of directors (and fat chance of that unless the company is losing money), a C-level executive has probably already made enough money to be set for life. And these guys—and in the case of Duke Energy, these guys and gals—never go to jail.
It’s about time that changed. We should throw away centuries of jurisprudence and tear the corporate veil to shreds. The corporate veil is the legal principle that a corporation is a separate legal person from its executives, employees, board members or shareholders. It seems to me that when the fictitious person called a corporation does something illegal the real people who make the decisions—the executives—should pay the fines from their own pockets and go to jail. It is true that employees and executives who act alone and break the law sometimes go to jail, but when a corporation breaks the law or makes a bad mistake, it usually just pays a never-large-enough fine and no one ends up in prison.
I think both Ann Maynard Gray and Lynne J. Good would look as sharp in a saggy orange prison uniform as Taylor Schilling, star of Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.” The rest of the Duke Energy Board, by the way, consists of 13 white males, one white female and a male who used to be Obama’s U.S. Ambassador to the European Union and looks as if he could be white or African-American. Having an individual or two on the board with the President’s private phone number stored in his cell phone probably makes the rest of these wealthy and connected scofflaws sleep a little more easily at night. And it probably doesn’t hurt that they live far away from the communities and natural areas damaged by their dumping.