Commentary

Duke Energy’s dangerous assault on nonprofits

Be sure to check out the excellent and important op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by Richard Clerkin, the Executive Director of the Institute for Nonprofits at N.C. State entitled “Duke Energy’s worrisome move to silence nonprofits.” In it, Clerkin decries Duke’s recent efforts to force environmental groups challenging its construction of a power plant to pay an impossibly huge bond in order to do so. Here’s Clerkin:

“One of the most important roles that nonprofit organizations play in our society is that of values guardian. They are the places that individuals come together not only to care for one another, but also to also share, raise and amplify their voices in the public arena. They are a fundamental part of our First Amendment rights to freedom of association, freedom of speech and the ability to petition government for the redress of grievances.

That Duke Energy wants two nonprofits to have to raise $240 million to challenge it in court shows how barriers can be erected to make it difficult for nonprofits to play this vital role. NC WARN in Durham and The Climate Times in Boone want to appeal a power plant construction permit issued in March to Duke Energy Progress. But the company is invoking a 1965 North Carolina law that could require the nonprofits to post a financial bond first.

Regardless of where we as individual residents of North Carolina stand on the environmental and business interests at stake in this matter, we ought to be collectively concerned about nonprofits needing to “pay to play” when they raise their voices about public policies.”

After going on to explain the critical; role that nonprofits (of all points of view) play in American society, Clerkin concludes this way:

“In a society that professes a belief in the competition of ideas as the best way to generate better public policy, we ought to be building and nurturing our diverse nonprofit sector, not putting up barriers to their participation. These organizations that represent our diverse civil society ought to be leading the way in promoting a values-driven and evidence-based civil discourse focused on the common good.

Nonprofit organizations are a fundamental expression of our First Amendment rights. They play a critical role in enabling citizens to hold government and businesses accountable for focusing on the common good. We should not invoke archaic laws from the middle of the previous century to silence them. As a society, we should ensure that nonprofit organizations have the capacity, commitment and courage to advocate for their values, for our full array of values.”

Let’s hope the law Duke cites is not enforced by the courts in the way the energy giant demands, but if it is, state lawmakers should repeal or modify it ASAP.

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