The NCLBC shall exercise unified political power for the betterment of people of color and consequently, all North Carolinians.

NC GOP calls for Cooper investigation over pipeline

March 13th, 2018

The state Republican Party called Tuesday on the U.S. Attorneys Office to investigate Gov. Roy Cooper over his administration’s handling of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and a $57.8 million mitigation fund attached to it.

Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said the group doesn’t have evidence to point to beyond what’s publicly known about the project, but it feels a federal inquiry is warranted. Cooper, his aides and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality have repeatedly denied a tie between the fund and a key state permit for the pipeline.

Party officials called an 11 a.m. press conference and said they would deliver a letter to the U.S Attorney for North Carolina’s Eastern District asking the office to review “potential Hobbs Act violations by Governor Cooper.” The Hobbs Act is federal bribery law, requiring proof that a public official accepted outside payment knowing that it was made in exchange for an official act.

Woodhouse said Cooper didn’t have to personally profit from the pipeline deal to warrant an inquiry, that the benefit could be political. The fund could be used to placate environmental groups, for example, upset with the governor because his administration approved the gas pipeline, Woodhouse said.

DEQ officials have said they had little choice but to approve the project because the pipeline plans satisfied state law. Federal regulators, as well as state regulators in Virginia and West Virginia have given similar approvals for the line, which a quartet of energy companies, including Duke Energy and Dominion, plan to have online in 2019. Trees are being felled now along the 600 mile route.

North Carolina’s mitigation fund was laid out in a memorandum of understanding between Cooper’s in-house attorney and the pipeline coalition, and it called on the pipeline companies to deposit money in an account named by the governor. The money would go toward environmental mitigation, economic development and renewable energy projects along the route, with details laid out in a future executive order.

The Cooper administration announced the fund the same day DEQ announced that the project had obtained a crucial water permit. The governor would later say that the plan was to run the mitigation money through groups such as the Rural Infrastructure Authority and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, with much of the money being used to help businesses and farms in Eastern North Carolina hook into the gas supply and assurances in place for transparency.

Those details weren’t written down, though.

The money hasn’t flowed, and the legislature quickly stepped in to re-route the fund, saying in legislation passed last month that it would be spent instead on public schools along the pipeline route.

The pipeline companies have a similar mitigation fund deal with the state of Virginia, and they’re working on one with West Virginia. But Virginia’s agreement was between the pipeline coalition and the state, signed by then Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s secretary of natural resources. It named groups that would receive funding.

North Carolina’s agreement was between the coalition and the governor, in his official capacity, a decision the Cooper administration has said it made to keep the legislature from controlling the money. Cooper’s in-house attorney, William McKinney, signed on his behalf, and the memorandum said a future executive order would flesh out details.

The money would have flowed to “an escrow account designated by a third party selected by the governor.”

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