Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Alcoa and 'The Edge of the Storm?'

Carter Wrenn has seen it all in N.C. politics during his time as a Republican strategist working for the well-known (Sen. Jesse Helms and former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, for example) and the less-well-known, too. He's part of one of the most engaging blogs I follow about North Carolina politics at www.talkingaboutpolitics.com. His blogging partner is Gary Pearce, a Democrat who has worked for, among many others, Jim Hunt and in 1998 John Edwards. Between these guys there's a couple of encyclopedias worth of experience and judgment.

I was particularly taken with Carter's blog last week about what's going on in local elections in Stanly County. He says it's a case where the recent Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission appears to have freed corporate interests to overwhelm political candidates without deep pockets. In a blogpost he headlined "The Edge of the Storm?" Carter notes that "we just got an example of what may be the front edge of the coming storm right here in North Carolina – down in Stanly County."

It's all about Stanly County commissioners opposing Alcoa's effort to get another license for its hydroelectric plants on the Yadkin River -- and how the company may be able to politically bury three commissioners running for re-election who had fought Alcoa and shown how the company had polluted the area back when companies dumped waste on the "back 40," as one company official put it. Carter wrote:

"Then last week, before the upcoming Primary where three of the Commissioners are seeking reelection, Alcoa launched an ad campaign using newspaper ads, billboards, mailings and the Internet to blast the Commissioners, saying they’ve been wasting taxpayers’ money…by, well, hiring scientists, lawyers and lobbyists to fight Alcoa.

"This is a pretty good example of what the “moaners” were worried about regarding the Supreme Court ruling. Alcoa’s an international behemoth conglomerate. Its Chairman is from Brazil, its President is from Germany, it’s partnered with the Chinese and its world headquarters is in Pittsburgh, old Andrew Mellon’s hometown. It smelts aluminum everywhere from Iceland to the Amazon Rainforest and its annual budget is bigger than the State of North Carolina’s – so what hope on earth do three local County Commissioners (who may raise $5000 in their entire campaigns) have of winning re-election if Alcoa with its $20 billion annual budget is dead-set on retiring them?"


Zoe Hanes said...

Thank you for this voice of reason. Alcoa has taken a playbook from other corporations and twisted what is a pretty cut and dry case of contract law and made it into a property rights issue. Alcoa does not own the river. It shouldn't be able to own the political domain either.

Bill Bunker, VP Hydropower, Alcoa Power Generating Inc. said...

Alcoa is exercising its constitutional right of free speech in pointing out to Stanly County taxpayers the fact that county commissioners have spent more than $3 million in taxpayer funds in their effort to take Alcoa's private property.

Mr. Carter Wrenn, a veteran political consultant, recently stated that Alcoa's efforts are made possible because of the Supreme Court's recent Citizens United decision allowing corporations to advocate for the election or defeat of candidates. That is not true. First, corporations have had throughout our country's history a right to express their position on important public policy issues. The public deserves to know what issues are important to businesses. And second, Alcoa is not advocating for or against a specific candidate in Stanly County , and we will not. But, we are against a specific public policy -- the use of County taxpayer funds to take the property of its largest private taxpayer.

We want the public to know what their County leaders are doing. If some, like Mr. Wrenn, believe the County commissioners are making good use of $3 million, that's their business. We do not. And, thankfully, in America, we have a constitutional right to express that opinion.

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Anonymous said...

I am an entrepreneur, a moderate Republican and a life long capitalist, but I also know a little bit more than the average citizen about ALCOA. What ALCOA is doing in Stanley County is wrong. The Badin works smelter was a commercially viable plant and ALCOA had numerous offers to sell the facility instead of closing it, but decided it was better to limit competition and eliminate 600 jobs than divest the facility. 40% of the cost of producing Aluminum is power and the dams on the Yadkin were built to power the Aluminum smelter. There have been numerous federal, state and local subsidies given ALCOA over a multitude of decades to maintain their operation and it is absolute lunacy for ALCOA to retain the power licenses without the plant. As for environmental conditions, there is no doubt the facility should be (if not already is) a Superfund site and it has always amazed me that the development was allowed on Badin Lake knowing full well that the possibility of contamination was very high as laws did not exist in the 40's, 50's or 60's regarding regulating volatile organic compounds.