News: CJ Exclusives

Air Quality Official Recruited for Nonprofit on Taxpayer Dime

Climate Registry targets groups to report greenhouse gas emissions

A former official in the N.C. Division of Air Quality charged about $2,000 to his state reimbursement account while traveling for The Climate Registry, an out-of-state nonprofit that seeks to fight global warming.

Brock Nicholson, who was deputy director of DAQ until he retired in December, also worked on state time to convince entities to join the registry and pay membership fees. Nicholson served on the group’s board of directors and executive committee while holding his position at DAQ.

As reported by Carolina Journal previously, North Carolina joined the registry, which is based in California, in 2007. The nonprofit’s goal is to persuade companies, organizations, and state and local governments to report their greenhouse gas emissions in hopes of curbing climate change.

Nicholson was the point man for North Carolina’s involvement with the group. He sent letters, made phone calls, and coordinated a meeting at DAQ’s offices in Raleigh aimed at getting entities in North Carolina to join the registry and report their emissions.

He also moderated phone calls between registry staff and board members, drew from DAQ funds to make two payments of $50,000 to the registry, and traveled on DAQ time to at least three registry-sponsored events.

The first was an executive committee meeting Feb. 5-6, 2007, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Nicholson listed expenses of $676.79 for the trip, according to reimbursement records.

The second was a registry board meeting May 22-24, 2007, in Chicago. Nicholson stayed at the Hyatt Regency Chicago and listed expenses of $273.42 for the trip, not counting airfare, which was not included on the reimbursement accounts provided to CJ.

The third and final trip, also to Chicago for a registry board meeting, took place June 3-5, 2008. Nicholson was reimbursed for $976.30, including $551.62 for a two-night stay at the four-star Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel in downtown Chicago, where the board meeting took place.

Nicholson participated in registry events in his official capacity as DAQ deputy director and continued to draw on his state salary while recruiting for the nonprofit. As of his retirement in December, Nicholson’s annual salary was $107,979, according to the N.C. Office of State Personnel.

Asked by CJ if his participation in the registry was appropriate, Nicholson said that he was “carrying out and implementing recommendations” from the North Carolina Climate Change Advisory Group and the N.C. Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change.

CAPAG is a DAQ-created group that advises the state on ways to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. The Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change was established in 2005 to study global warming and its impact on the state

One of CAPAG’s recommendations is that “North Carolina actively engage with other states in developing a regional or national [greenhouse gas] registry that will comprehensively meet the state’s needs as soon as possible.” The recommendations are nonbinding.

The Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change has never addressed the question of North Carolina’s involvement in a multistate registry, nor has the General Assembly passed legislation dealing with the issue.

Chris Horner, a lawyer and senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said Nicholson should have billed his time and expenses back to the registry for reimbursement to N.C. taxpayers.

“In the event this is not something that politicized offices are willing to do, then a request should be made that [Nicholson’s] time be recalculated as personal time,” he said.

Horner also criticized Nicholson’s justification for supporting the registry. “It seems clear that this state official, on taxpayer expense, worked on behalf of an outside entity, no matter how much he points back to what is in essence his own office as the authority for having done so,” he said.

Nicholson said that he didn’t receive compensation from the registry, nor was he promised compensation in the future.

“Like I said, I got nothing for doing it,” he said.

David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.