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Legislators expecting Cooper and aides to testify at pipeline hearing

Atlantic Coast Pipeline contractors have installed 12 miles of pipeline in Northampton County, including this section beside the sign. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)
Atlantic Coast Pipeline contractors have installed 12 miles of pipeline in Northampton County, including this section beside the sign. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)

Legislators looking into how Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration handled an environmental permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have asked Cooper and three of his top staffers to testify in Raleigh at a legislative committee meeting Friday, Nov. 8.

 The request came a few days after Cooper’s chief of staff Kristi Jones sent a testy letter to Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, and Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union, calling the General Assembly’s ACP investigation a sham and a “legislative inquisition.” Jones demanded lawmakers turn over a raft of documents related to the investigation and to cough up records that normally would be shielded from disclosure under the umbrella of legislative privilege. (It’s a broad distinction applying to “work product” and similar materials used during the drafting of legislation.)

 In an Oct. 21 letter to Cooper, Brown and Arp, who chair the subcommittee investigating the pipeline permitting process, said investigators want to hear from Cooper, adviser Ken Eudy, legal counsel William McKinney, and adviser Julia White.

“We hope that you and the requested staff are available during the oversight hearing, which we are holding because of your refusal to speak to or allow your staff to speak to the independent investigators in the same confidential format used for all interviewees. The format will likely be similar to a standard deposition,” Brown and Arp wrote. 

 Berger’s spokesman Pat Ryan told Carolina Journal the subcommittee chairmen told him only legislators will be allowed to ask questions of Cooper and his team.

 CJ asked Cooper spokesman Ford Porter if the governor or his aides planned to speak to the legislative committee. At press time, CJ hadn’t gotten a response.

 The ACP project is a 600-mile natural gas pipeline project that will be built in West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. Dominion Energy and Duke Energy are the major partners. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted final approval for the project in October 2017, but the ACP still needed to get environmental permits in each state.

 In January 2018, immediately after Cooper’s Department of Environmental Quality announced it granted a Water Quality Permit for the ACP, the governor’s office announced that the ACP would create a $57.8 million discretionary fund for Cooper to spend on damage mitigation, economic development, and renewable energy projects in counties affected by the pipeline.

 Carolina Journal’s reporting raised concerns about the legality of the fund. Legislators said the arrangement was unconstitutional and looked like a “pay to play” scheme. In February, the General Assembly voted to redirect Cooper’s discretionary fund to the school systems in eight counties in the path of the pipeline.

 Legislative leaders still wanted to know the details of the DEQ permitting process and the background behind the $57.8 million discretionary fund, as well as Cooper’s possible intervention in negotiations between Duke and the solar industry on the interpretation of legislation aimed at reducing the cost of solar power to ratepayers.

 The Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, chaired by Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, created a subcommittee on the ACP. The subcommittee hired a team of private investigators, including former FBI and Treasury agents.  

CJ has published more than 30 stories related to the ACP.