Opinion

Opinion

Editorial: Is pipeline controversy a partisan political pipe dream?

Posted October 18, 2019 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated October 18, 2019 5:47 a.m. EDT

Route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline through eastern N.C.

CBC Editorial: Friday, Oct. 18, 2019; Editorial #8472
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Ten months ago the leaders of the General Assembly hired private investigators to look into Gov. Roy Cooper's administration's dealings on the Atlantic Coast natural Pipeline -- even as the administration promised and provided records legislators requested.

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Ten months and nearly $60,000 in taxpayer funds paid to Eagle Intel Services of Wilmington to look into a $58 million mitigation agreement negotiated by Cooper's office -- it is hard not to come to the conclusion that it is more about partisan politics than any potential wrong-doing by the Cooper administration or the developers of the pipeline. Legislators, at the behest of the Republican leadership, took control of the potential mitigation fund.

The pipeline is being built by a consortium that includes Virginia-based Dominion Energy, Duke Energy in North Carolina and Atlanta-based Southern Company Gas. Construction of the natural gas pipeline has been stalled by a variety of legal and environmental challenges.

Last week Cooper's office disclosed a letter from state Sen. Harry Brown and state Rep. Dean Arp demanding members of Cooper's staff agree to be interviewed, behind closed doors, by the Republican-hired investigators. Cooper's office said staffers would testify in open, public meetings but not in private, closed-door sessions.

Read the letters below. It is no stretch to find the ordeal is an expensive display of political theatrics.


Oct. 11, 2019 Letter from Sen. Harry Brown and Rep. Dean Arp of the legislature's Subcommittee on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline:

Dear Gov. Cooper,

The independent oversight investigators retained by the North Carolina General Assembly looking into the Atlantic Coast Pipeline permitting process informed us that they have nearly concluded their witness interviews.

The independent investigators have not yet spoken with your office despite multiple calls and voicemails. Based on prior communications with your office, it is our understanding that you have instructed some employees not to cooperate with the independent oversight investigators.

The investigators have informed us that they wish to speak with you and other members of your office, and we of course would like you to cooperate. We write to offer you three options for cooperation>

  1. Permit all Governor's Office employees to speak with the independent oversight investigators about their public duties in a setting with which the employees feel most comfortable. We are open to working with your counsel on procedural details if you wish.
  2. Select Governor's Office employees to testify before the Subcommittee on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. We would prefer to hear from you directly, but if you refuse, the Subcommittee would expect the Governor's Office employee(s) you designate to testify should be able to speak about and answer questions regarding: You and your office's participation in the ACP permitting process; conversations between the Executive Branch, Duke Energy and the solar industry about the permitting process, the nameplate capacity matter and the $57.8 million mitigation fund; and other relevant matters.
  3. Do not permit any Governor's Office employees to speak on the matter. The independent oversight investigators would complete their report using the large volume of information already provided to them by other parties. Their report will note that you refused to make available - publicly or privately - key employees who played a major role in the alleged events. The legislature reserves its authority to subpoena those individuals.

We believe that these options provide you with considerable flexibility in determining the path forward that best suits your preferences, if you choose to select Governor's Office employees to testify at a public hearing, we anticipate that public hearing would take place the week of November 4, 2019. We await your reply.

Sincerely,
-- Senator Harry Brown (and) Representative Dean Arp


Oct. 11, 2019 response from Kristi Jones, Gov. Cooper's chief of staff:

Dear Senator Brown & Representative Arp:

Regarding the request by employees of Eagle Intel Services to this office authorized by you and your letter of today, members of the Governor's Office decline to participate in closed-door interviews for this politically motivated sham.

The request to interrogate members of the Governor's staff and the Governor himself raises unprecedented separations of powers questions.

But more outrageous is dredging up old inquiries into an executive act that is almost two years old even after members of the Administration have appeared voluntarily before the legislature multiple times and provided reams of records.

The fact that you intend to inquire about the propriety of the funds paid by Duke is hypocritical at best given that you have already appropriated those funds. Clearly you did not believe that a mitigation fund was inappropriate. You simply wanted to control it. Moreover, the solar settlement to which you refer was advanced by Republican members of the General Assembly and approved by the N.C. Utilities Commission.

Our office notified you at the time you retained this Republican firm to go on a fishing expedition throughout the Administration that we would not participate in these closed-door interrogation sessions.

In the absence of any legitimate motive for continuing this partisan charade, we can only conclude that the legislative intent is to create fake controversy to distaict from allegations of corruption and unethical behavior by Republican legislative leadership.

As the legislature takes another vacation from work without giving teachers a pay raise or providing health insurance through Medicaid expansion, it's downright deplorable that you would waste time this way.

Therefore, please inform your hired Republican investigators that members of the Office of the Governor decline interviews.

However, as we have repeatedly told you, if you are intent on pursuing these hearings on a fake controversy, the Governor's staff will answer questions at a public hearing in order to put this fully and finally to rest once and for all.

Sincerely,
-- Kristi Jones -- Chief of Staff

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