Little new information as lawmakers question Cooper advisers on Atlantic Coast Pipeline
Posted November 8, 2019 3:17 p.m. EST
Updated November 9, 2019 12:37 a.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — The private investigators that Republican lawmakers hired to look at how Gov. Roy Cooper's administration handled the Atlantic Coast Pipeline permitting should have a final report ready in the next few weeks.
Legislators asked some of investigators' last remaining questions Friday during an open subcommittee hearing featuring testimony from a pair of top advisers in the Governor's Office.
They reiterated what the administration has said from the beginning: That there was no effort to hold a key state permit over the heads of Duke Energy and other pipeline partners as the administration negotiated a $57.8 million project mitigation fund that the governor would have controlled and also brokered conversations between Duke and solar energy companies trying to tie into the grid.
Cooper's team called the entire inquiry a politically motivated sham. GOP leaders said the investigation dragged out because of the administration's "obstruction and obfuscation."
The questioning lasted only about an hour and didn't seem to unearth new information. It had the feel of investigators, who wrote questions for lawmakers running the hearing, dotting i's, crossing t's and getting key administration officials on the record on a handful of points.
It's unclear who all investigators have spoken to, but on Monday, the Cooper administration released interview transcripts from key players at the Department of Environmental Quality. A Duke spokeswoman confirmed Friday that "several Duke Energy executives" were interviewed, but she did not say who or what they said.
Company Chief Executive Lynn Good met with Cooper in the run-up to the permit decision, and administration officials have said she and other company executives were concerned about slow progress on the pipeline's crucial 401 water permit. Several of the questions Friday keyed on Cooper's conversations with Good.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, who led Friday's questioning, declined to say after the subcommittee wrapped what conclusions he drew from the answers, if any. He said he hasn't seen all of the information that investigators, former federal agents from Eagle Intel Services, have compiled in their inquiry, which spanned most of this year.
Lawmakers invited Cooper himself and William McKinney, the governor's in-house attorney, to Friday's hearing but said both declined. The administration said it offered Cooper's chief of staff, Kristi Jones, and that legislators declined. They heard instead from a pair of senior advisers: Ken Eudy, who was Cooper's point man on the pipeline, and Julia White, who liaised with DEQ during the pipeline permitting process.
Eudy said, as he has before, that the administration wanted to announce the mitigation fund, with its money for economic development and environmental projects, and a deal on solar energy along with the pipeline permit as a salve for environmentalists sure to be upset that the pipeline would go forward. The mistake, he said, was not laying out in writing how the mitigation fund would be spent, leaving that up to a never-written executive order. The governor has said that order would have created a board to make those decisions instead of leaving it in his purview, as the memorandum of understanding with the pipeline consortium did.
"Did we do these things perfectly?" Eudy said Friday. "No, we did not."