A broad coalition of environmental advocacy groups held a rally today outside the North Carolina General Assembly to vent their anger over big utilities' hijacking of legislation originally drafted to promote a more sustainable energy future for the state.

When it was first introduced by state Sen. Charlie Albertson (D-Duplin), Senate Bill 3 won broad support from environmentalists for requiring the state's utilities to increase power generation from less polluting sources. But as the bill made its way through the legislative process, controversial provisions were added that shift financial risks for the expensive new coal and nuclear plants that utilities want to rate payers. Other changes reverse a long-planned phase-out of hog waste lagoons, instead allowing industrial hog operations to keep the lagoons in exchange for capturing methane gas emissions for energy production.

At the rally, Gary Grant of Concerned Citizens of Tillery -- an environmental justice group based in eastern North Carolina where the state's industrial hog industry is concentrated -- noted that most waste lagoons are located in poor and predominantly African-American communities. Gases emitted by the lagoons have been associated with a host of negative health effects including respiratory problems and diarrhea.

"If these things were in white communities, there would have been a law against them passed a long time ago," Grant said. "Now our next generation of children is going to have to grow up smelling hog shit. It's not right."

The rally came one day after Democracy North Carolina released a report (PDF) documenting extensive financial ties between the state's two big utilities -- Duke Energy and Progress Energy -- and state lawmakers. Over the past four years, the two companies spent a total of $1.7 million on lobbyists and political contributions to state lawmakers, an average investment of about $10,000 per legislator.

The watchdog group also reviewed legislators' financial disclosure reports, finding that at least seven of the state's 50 senators hold stock valued at $10,000 or more in Duke or Progress. In addition, at least six are employed by law firms that work on behalf of energy companies.

They include state Sen. Dan Clodfelter (D-Mecklenburg), who played an unusual role as the legislation's manager. Besides having received $36,000 from the utilities over the past two election cycles (more than any other lawmaker except Sen. Tony Rand, a Cumberland County Democrat who received the same amount), Clodfelter is also among those lawmakers who own utility stock. In addition, Clodfelter works for the Carolinas-based law firm of Moore & Van Allen, which has an extensive energy and project finance practice and also specializes in lobbying on behalf of energy interests.

"We don't have a representative government here," Don Webb of the Alliance for a Responsible Swine Industry told the rally. "We have a corporate power government. They only listen to money, money, money!"

Among the other organizations opposing the North Carolina legislation are the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Canary Coalition, Clean Water for North Carolina, N.C. Fair Share, N.C. Interfaith Power & Light, N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network and every riverkeeper group in the state.

The only environmental groups supporting the legislation in its current form are Environmental Defense and the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association. ED, which has historically fought to eliminate hog waste lagoons, also recently played a controversial role in brokering a deal to allow the construction of new coal-fired power plants in Texas despite the opposition of local leaders and other environmental groups.