Monday, June 19, 2023

List of "winners and losers" in a big utility's scandal shows that influence-peddling schemes, fueled by loads of consumer cash, pay off for Southern Company

Southern Company headquarters in Atlanta

You might think that a CEO who oversaw a $27-billion accounting-fraud scandal and a wide-ranging racketeering scheme -- not to mention embarrassingly flawed construction projects -- would be out of a job, on  his way to prison, or both. But with no internal entity interested in seeking accountability and government authorities looking the other way, this CEO actually stands as one of the "winners" at his corruption-riddled firm, the Atlanta-based utility Southern Company.

The CEO, in this case, is Thomas Fanning, who apparently will not be held criminally accountable by anyone -- and he still has a job, an even better job than he had before. In essence, Fanning has bounced out of a sewer smelling like honeysuckle. For accomplishing that feat, he has been designated a "winner" in the "hot mess" engulfing Southern Company, according to  an article at A longtime Alabama attorney, entrepreneur, and civil-rights advocate, Watkins has become a leading voice in online journalism about the Southern Company scandals. He presents the "honor" to Fanning with a heavy dose of irony, even sarcasm. But if getting away with oversight of wrongdoing and incompetence is a talent, Fanning probably has earned this distinction. In a post titled "The Southern Company: Winners and Losers," Watkins writes:

After researching and writing many articles about the (a) engrained culture of corruption within the Southern Company and (b) inherent dangers arising from the company's fatally flawed, poorly constructed, and inadequately inspected nuclear-powered Units 3 and 4 at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant near Waynesboro Georgia, I am now able to declare the “WINNERS” and “LOSERS” in this sordid mess.

The culture of corruption within the Southern Company is legendary. This utility giant runs one of the most successful racketeering enterprises in American history.

Since 2017, the Southern Company has also engaged in a massive $27-billion, multi-year accounting-fraud scheme that dwarfs the $2.7-billion financial fraud scheme that operated at HealthSouth Corp. from 1996 to 2002.

As discussed below, the Southern Company fears no state or federal prosecutor.

That means Watkins' list of "winners and losers" is, at its core, an indictment of America's broken justice system. Writes Watkins:

Beginning in late 2022, the Southern Company was able to “fix” a federal investigation into its own criminal conduct. The Southern Company used a slick influence-peddling campaign in Washington to redirect the focus of President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice from its corporate criminal activities to the investigation and prosecution of former president Donald J. Trump.

Southern Company operatives also "saved" Jay Town, a Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, from his own potential criminal culpability in the infamous North Birmingham Bribery Scandal.

In return, Jay Town now bashes Donald Trump on NBC Nightly News and local media outlets in Alabama like Yellowhammer News. The rollout of Town's recent anti-Trump media campaign constitutes a thinly-veiled effort by the Southern Company to poison the jury pool against Donald Trump for the benefit of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and Special Counsel Jack Smith ahead of Trump's New York and Miami criminal trials.

Once Jay Town was successfully "flipped" from a Trump loyalist to a Trump critic, his own criminal exposure at the Department of Justice miraculously melted away.

Because of the Southern Company’s gross mismanagement of the Vogtle projects, Units 3 and 4 are seven years behind schedule. These two projects drove Westinghouse Electric, LLC, the original contractor, into bankruptcy.

The original construction costs of $14 billion for Units 3 and 4 have ballooned to nearly $35 billion. Today, these units are more than $21 billion over budget.

With those sobering numbers on the table, let's head to Watkins' list of "winners:

In my view, the “winners” are the people who avoided swallowing the Southern Company’s gigantic share of the company's $21 billion in losses at Vogtle and $8 billion in losses at the company’s coal-gasification plant in Kemper, Mississippi.

Some of these people actually benefited economically from the failed executive decisions that adversely impacted the Vogtle and Kemper projects.

1. Southern Company Shareholders

The biggest WINNERS in this mess are Southern Company shareholders.

Despite the $29 billions in losses associated with the Vogtle and Kemper construction projects, the company has paid its shareholder dividends in increasing amounts for 22 consecutive years.

Since 2017, the Southern Company has been forced to borrow money to pay these much touted dividends.

2. Thomas A. Fanning

Former Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning is a WINNER.

Since Thomas Fanning assumed the CEO position in 2010, shareholders have had the power to approve or reject his slate of recommended nominees for the company’s board of directors. Shareholders have approved all of these nominees on every occasion.

In turn, these board members have condoned, approved, and/or rubber-stamped all Fanning’s $29 billion worth of mistakes and gross errors in judgment at Vogtle and Kemper.

Instead of firing Fanning, the company's board members rewarded him with consistent raises in salary and bonuses during his tenure as CEO. In 2022, Fanning made $24 million in total compensation.

Any other New York Stock Exchange/Fortune 500 CEO in America would have been fired for incurring $29 billion in cost overruns on the Vogtle and Kemper construction projects.

Remarkably, Thomas Fanning’s $29 billion in screw-ups earned him a promotion to the position of Executive Chairman of the Southern Company Board of Directors at the company’s annual shareholders meeting on May 24, 2023.

Thomas Fanning still runs the Southern Company. He oversees all of the company's operations from his Executive Chairman's position. What is more, Fanning is still making big bucks – for doing much less day-to-day work.

All of this makes Thomas Fanning a DOUBLE WINNER.

3. Christopher C. Womack

New Southern Company CEO Christopher C. Womack is a WINNER.

On May 24th, Womack succeeded Thomas Fanning as CEO. Womack even gained a seat on the company’s board of directors that was created especially for him .

Womack, a notorious womanizer, reports to Thomas Fanning. His job is viewed as a symbolic “wokeness” gesture for political and public-relations purposes in Washington and New York.

Today, Womack is considered the "poster boy" for President Joe Biden's diversity and nuclear energy initiatives.

Unfortunately, Womack does not have the educational background, engineering credentials, or operational experience to actually run the Southern Company. Based upon credible reports from Southern Company "insiders," Thomas Fanning and his loyal cronies actually run the company for Womack, who is 65-years-old.

Now, let's take a look at those who did not fare so well:


1. Nine Million Southern Company Customers

The Southern Company’s 9 million customers in a six-state service area (i.e., Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and Illinois) are the biggest LOSERS in this mess.

These 9 million customers are stuck with paying the tab for Thomas Fanning's $29 billion in construction-related mistakes at Vogtle and Kemper.

These 9 million customers do not get dividend checks like the Southern Company's shareholders. Instead, they get jacked-up monthly electric-power bills, with no end in sight.

They also pay for an army of lobbyists and compromised state and federal public officials who engage in non-stop efforts to dismantle their consumer and environmental-protection rights at all levels of government.

They have never been in a position to fire Thomas Fanning or curb his pay.

They have never had an opportunity to vote on the individuals who serve on the Southern Company’s board of directors. 

These 9 million customers have never been able to participate in the multi-billion dollar “grifting” deals that board member David J. Grain and others exploit from the Southern Company’s network of affiliate companies and vendor relationships.

Furthermore, they do not get $365,000 checks each year for rubber-stamping Fanning’s $29 billion worth of construction mistakes.

What is worse, each one of Georgia Power’s 2.7 million customers has already been forced to pay $913 in advance charges for the cost overruns at Vogtle. Once Unit 3 becomes operational, these Georgia-based customers will be hit with another $3.78 per month increase in their electric bills.

Tragically, the Southern Company’s 9 million customers have been gouged, financially raped, abused by regulatory agencies, and betrayed – repeatedly and with impunity.

The Georgia Public Service Commission, the Alabama Public Service Commission, the Mississippi Public Service Commission, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Joe Biden White House, and the U.S. Department of Justice have sold out these 9 million customers, without ever blinking an eye.

Each one of these government agencies was charged with protecting the consumer and environmental-protection rights of the Southern Company’s 9 million customers, and each one knowingly and willingly failed to do so.

Each one of these agencies was corrupted by the Southern Company’s pervasive influence-peddling schemes and the tens of millions of dollars in “dark moneycontributions that have been funneled to greedy public officials for the sole purpose of undermining their sworn public duty and promised public-service work.

2. Kimberly Greene

Kimberly Greene is a LOSER.

Ms. Greene was far more qualified than Christopher Womack for the Georgia Power CEO job that was awarded to Womack in November 2020.

Additionally, Ms. Greene should have been selected for the Southern Company CEO job on May 24, 2023.

The objective professional qualifications between Womack and Green are not even close. Greene’s credentials in the energy sector trump Womack’s all day, every day.

Frankly speaking, Kimberly Green was not promoted to the Southern Company's CEO position on May 24th because she is a smart, strong, hardworking woman in a male-dominated, Old South “Good Ol’ Boys” club.

For the reasons explained in my May 23, 2023, article, Kim Greene must be having a miserable time in reporting to her boss, Christopher Womack.

3. Residents of Georgia and South Carolina Living Within 40 Miles of Vogtle

The residents of Georgia and South Carolina who live within 40 miles of Vogtle are LOSERS.

As explained in my June 17, 2023, article, Units 3 and 4 will likely experience a Level 5 to 7 catastrophic nuclear disaster shortly after Unit 3 goes into commercial service. In light of the engineering flaws, shoddy workmanship, and lack of thorough, proper, and independent quality-control inspections at Units 3 and 4, this nuclear disaster is inevitable.

Since 2017, politics has trumped public safety in the construction of the Units 3 and 4. Today, these units are nuclear deathtraps.

More than 500,000 residents within an 11-county area surrounding Waynesboro, Georgia, will have to be permanently resettled after the likely nuclear disaster at Unit 3.

Thousands will become seriously ill from radiation poisoning. Many will die.

At this juncture, nobody inside of state and federal government appears to care about these residents or their likely plight.

4. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is a LOSER.

Like every other government agency in America today, the NRC has succumbed to influence peddling of the highest order. The NRC knows that Units 3 and 4 are not safe, but the Commission is allowing the Southern Company to self-certify the safety of these nuclear power units on a conflict-of-interest basis.

The NRC is under tremendous political pressure to approve Units 3 and 4 for commercial operations in time to politically benefit Joe Biden’s re-election campaign. After all, Biden designated Christopher T. Hanson as Chairman of the NRC on January 20, 2021 -- his first day in the White House.

The NRC's five Commissioners have apparently yielded to this political pressure.

In 1979, the NRC promised the nation that it would never allow another Three Mile Island nuclear disaster to happen on American soil. Following the meltdown at Three Mile Island, the NRC said the Commission would always place the health, safety, welfare, and lives of Americans above the greed of nuclear power plant owners/operators and the politicians who take their laundered money.

Well, it appears that the NRC lied when it made these promises in 1979!

To no one's surprise, money talks in Washington, D.C. -- and big money, the kind Southern Company has, speaks so that even the most powerful ears can hear it. That raises this question: How high do Southern Company's financial tentacles reach in the Washington firmament? Donald Watkins has been researching that question, and it sounds like he has reached some intriguing conclusions. Writes Watkins:

Southern Company customers have been royally screwed by everybody who was charged by law with protecting their consumer and environmental protection rights.

Today, Republican lawmakers in Washington are tripping over themselves as they investigate the financial dealings of Joe Biden and Hunter Biden with Bursima Holding Limited. Burisma is a privately owned oil and gas company headquartered in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Hunter Biden served on Burisma’s board of directors from 2014 to 2019. Hunter Biden reportedly made $5 million for rendering services of dubious nature to Burisma while he was a hard-core, crack-smoking, drug addict.

Nobody in Washington has bothered to look into the Southern Company’s undisclosed financial ties to Biden family members and those who operate within the family’s political and social orbit.

We have!

Stay tuned!

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