E&E Daily editor Kurtz previews eBook examining North Carolina's changing political landscape

In a new eBook, "Turning Carolina Red: Reports From the Front of an Energy Culture War," E&E Daily and Greenwire staff uncovers the story of North Carolina's rapidly changing political landscape and its impacts on energy and environment policy. On today's The Cutting Edge, E&E Daily editor Josh Kurtz previews the book and explains how North Carolina's political story paints a picture for other regions of the country.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. North Carolina's politics are changing, and that's having a direct impact on the state's energy and environment policy. E&E tracks it all in a new eBook, and E&E Daily's editor, Josh Kurtz, joins me with a preview. Josh, the inspiration for this eBook, "Turning Carolina Red," came from a series of articles that ran in E&E Daily and Greenwire. What stood out to you about North Carolina's story and political landscape?

Josh Kurtz: Well, a few things, Monica. The state has gone through tremendous political changes in just a couple of years. It's shifted vastly to the right. It's now being run by Republicans for the first time in decades, and so that, in and of itself, is interesting. It's gained nationwide attention, but the attention is mostly focused on things like voting rights, abortion, health care, state spending, things of that sort. Nobody's really looked at how it's affecting energy and environmental policy, and the fact is, it's affecting it quite a lot, particularly since there was a huge coal ash spill in North Carolina into the Dan River in early February, and that kind of placed our issues front and center in the North Carolina political arena.

Monica Trauzzi: So fracking, coal mining, biofuels production, environmental protection, it all makes its way into this book.

Josh Kurtz: Yes.

Monica Trauzzi: What have been the primary catalysts for change in North Carolina?

Josh Kurtz: Well, again, it's mostly been the coming of Republican rule, and with that, a very aggressive agenda, and the Republicans were kind of propelled into office, in part, by big money and big business, and the administration of the new governor, Pat McCrory, who, by the way, is a former Duke Energy executive, has really wanted to make it clear to businesses that they're kind of open for business, and so for example, the environmental regulatory agency is now -- its main priority is sort of making it easier to do business. So the conservative Legislature also is making changes. They're trying to chip away at regulations, so it's a combination of stuff making the change happen.

Monica Trauzzi: And Duke Energy comes up a lot in the discussion. Talk about Duke and the transition that that company has gone through in recent years.

Josh Kurtz: Yeah, Duke has gone through a few different transitions. Well, they've always been a powerhouse in North Carolina. They're based -- the corporate headquarters is in Charlotte, and in fact, as we outline in the book, they have basically the hottest lobbying team in all of Raleigh when it comes to lobbying state issues, but they had a very bumpy merger with Progress Energy in 2012. In 2013, their CEO, Jim Rogers, abruptly left, and he was a very charismatic figure. He was -- promoted renewable energy a lot, and the company changed again when his successor, a woman named Lynn Good, took over. She seemed more interested in protecting their traditional fossil fuel portfolio. And then, shortly after she took over, the coal ash spill happened. So the company's been buffeted a lot lately instead of always getting its way in the state Capitol now. Even some of its closest Republican supporters are distancing themselves a little, so it's an interesting time for Duke.

Monica Trauzzi: How does North Carolina's story paint a picture for what we could see in other regions of the country?

Josh Kurtz: Well, I think the most -- the clearest thing is that money matters. We're focused here a lot, in Washington, in Congress and how much money goes into lobbying Congress and winning congressional elections, but in the states, it doesn't take that much money to sway things, and that's something that we learned in North Carolina, and that can be taking place in other states.

Monica Trauzzi: So does the North Carolina story continue to evolve, or do they have some clear lessons learned?

Josh Kurtz: Well, no, the North -- I mean, certainly, politically, the North Carolina story is very much evolving. There's a very hot U.S. Senate election this fall. The incumbent Democrat, Kay Hagan, is being challenged by Thom Tillis, who's the speaker of the state House. So a lot of what's been happening in the state Capitol affects that race. Then there'll be a very high-profile race for governor again in 2016, where McCrory will probably be challenged by Roy Cooper, the state attorney general. So the state is still evolving as we -- I mean, we see this book as -- and the political climate there is just kind of a work in progress.

Monica Trauzzi: The eBook is a great read --

Josh Kurtz: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: -- and it's available for download today. Josh, thank you for coming on the show.

Josh Kurtz: Thank you, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.

[End of Audio]



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