RALEIGH – Gov. Roy Cooper’s sly attempt to secure a nearly $58 million slush fund as part of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline unchecked, and his refusal to answer key questions raised about not only the legality of the move, but the inconsistencies in his public remarks, stinks. It stinks really bad of corruption and utter disregard for the intended structure and authorities of state government.
Republican N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger is not interest in letting Cooper slink away from this scandal after letting House Bill 90, a bill that reasserts the legislature’s rightful authority over those funds, become law with out his signature.
“As lawmakers, the press and the public continue to await answers to questions surrounding what some are calling Roy Cooper’s personal ‘slush fund’ – the roughly $58 million he obtained from energy companies within hours prior to his administration’s issuance of a major permit to advance the Atlantic Coast Pipeline – here are the top claims from Cooper’s Feb. 14 press conference on the topic that just don’t pass the smell test.” Sen. Phil Berger
Berger is interested in the answers to a lot of good questions related to the slush fund and explanations for the Cooper’s self-contradictions.
— NCSenate Republicans (@MyNCSenate) February 26, 2018
Not a binding agreement, Roy? Then why so many signatures and contingencies presided over by lawyers on both sides?
Cooper accused the Republican General Assembly of “raiding the funds” and effectively taking jobs from Eastern North Carolina, but those funds were rededicated to education in the same areas. Isn’t education funding Cooper’s calling card?
He also said that the money was for environmental mitigation, but state and federal law already requires these projects to satisfy all such requirements.
And then, of course, it’s about economic development too.
“Funny how all the governor could talk about for days was environmental mitigation in an effort to appease his base. Even his agreement with the ACP was called the ‘Mitigation Project Memorandum of Understanding.’ But then, as soon as lawmakers reminded him that state and federal law already require utilities building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to meet environmental mitigation requirements before the project can receive approval, he quickly changed his tune. Yet he repeatedly refused to answer the direct question on why he apparently doesn’t believe investing $58 million in our children’s public education in the eight rural Eastern North Carolina counties impacted by the pipeline will help economic development and job creation in that region.” – Sen. Phil Berger
As we documented on First in Freedom, Cooper and his family have substantial land holdings along the pipeline route that stood to benefit from the ‘economic development’ to be enabled by the slush fund.
‘But, but, but Cooper declared all of his interests and careful steps will be taken to make sure another body delegates funds in an appropriate manner,‘ the Democrats said.
Turns out his agreement to build a solar farm on land owned by his family near the future pipeline was not disclosed on those forms. The slush fund was also to go toward ‘renewable energy’ projects according to Cooper.
And about those independent bodies of experts that would delegate the funds, namely the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Rural Infrastructure Authority: Cooper is currently suing to bring both of those entities under direct control of the governor’s office.
The stinkiest of them all may be Cooper’s claim that the slush fund was independent of the permitting process, denying criticism from the environmental Left and conservative Right that he essentially sold the permits for the price of the slush fund.
That claim doesn’t really mesh with the fact that the text of the agreement it says that the payout of the nearly $58 million is contingent on the pipeline coming into service and if the project “fails to obtain and maintain the state approvals or any other necessary permits, certifications, consents, authorizations, and any other approvals… the Governor of the State of North Carolina shall deliver the proportionate share of the mitigation funds as preserved in accordance with this paragraph to Atlantic within thirty (30) days of the receipt of written notice of termination from Atlantic.”
Instead of answering reasonable questions with reasonable answers, Cooper has just dug his hole deeper and deeper it seems. Imagine if Democrats controlled the legislature? This corruption would have just flown right under the radar.
How is Cooper going to be held accountable?
Read on for the full list of questions from Republican legislative leadership.
1. Did Gov. Cooper personally bless the arrangement creating the $58 million fund?
2. Were the negotiated offers made in writing or in person? Are there other drafts you can share? Were other matters beyond the pipeline addressed during negotiations? If so, what matters?
Is the governor aware that state and federal law already require utilities building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to meet environmental mitigation requirements before the project can receive approval? Is he aware of recent reports from WBTV indicating the pipeline companies made additional payments totaling $11 million for mitigation purposes?
3. Why does the governor’s office call this a “voluntary contribution” when Democratic Rep. Pricey Harrison said it was “a condition of getting the permit granted” and the governor’s own spokesman has called the arrangement “negotiations,” which by definition are not voluntary? Did anyone in the executive branch or governor’s office, or with direct ties to the governor directly or indirectly ask Rep. Pricey Harrison to retract her statement that the fund was “a condition of getting the permit granted?”
4. Would the private parties involved in the negotiations agree with the governor’s assertion that this was a “voluntary contribution” completely unrelated to the permitting process?
5. Does the governor’s office think this type of activity – requesting large contributions from private businesses wanting to do business in our state – encourages economic development in North Carolina?
6. Do you think the solicitation and acceptance of this money by the governor erodes the public’s trust in the permit approval process?
7. Why does the governor’s office compare this agreement to actions taken in Virginia when the Virginia agreement was signed by the Commonwealth’s chief environmental regulator and went to specifically designated mitigation projects, while Gov. Cooper’s deal gives him unfettered control of an extra-governmental fund outside of the normal appropriations process allowed by the North Carolina constitution?
8. Is this arrangement an illegal and unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers or a violation of due process?
9. Does this arrangement run afoul of state ethics law that prohibits elected officials from using their office and title to solicit funds for personal benefit?
10. You stated that discussions about the fund “began in 2017.” When in 2017? And when, specifically, did the actual negotiations take place? Did Gov. Cooper personally participate in and/or sign off on the negotiations?
11. Your statement, “never was the Governor contemplated to be the decision maker as to which projects were funded,” directly contradicts the last whereas clause of the MOU, which states “the Governor, through his agents and assigns… has the authority
to direct the disbursement of funds contemplated in the MOU.” Please explain this inconsistency.
12. You stated the governor’s deal with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s builders may now be in peril. Have you heard this from the pipeline builders, or are you implying the governor will no longer accept the funds if they are used to help poor, rural Eastern North Carolina schools?
13. Why doesn’t the governor believe investing $58 million in our children’s public education in the eight poor, rural Eastern North Carolina counties impacted by the pipeline will help economic development and job creation in that region?
14. You mentioned “the Rural Infrastructure Authority and the Clean Water Management Trust Fund are examples of two grantmakers operating under these guidelines that could fulfill the administrative process and accomplish the goals.” Aren’t these entities the subject of a lawsuit filed by Gov. Cooper claiming they are unconstitutionally constituted because he lacks sufficient
dominance of the board appointments to exercise real control over the boards’ actions? Why would he support these funds being administered by two entities he is challenging in court? And why does he claim these boards are independent at the same time he is seeking complete control of them from the Democratic-controlled Supreme Court?
15. Your response, “as to whether shareholders or ratepayers would cover the cost of the fund, that is a decision for the utilities developing the pipeline,” contradicts the News & Observer report that “Duke and other utilities will seek to recover the full cost of the pipeline – which includes construction, permitting and environmental compliance – from their customers through their utility bills.” Why did Gov. Cooper fail to negotiate a requirement that these payments come out of corporate profits, rather than from rate-paying customers?