RALEIGH – Despite their best efforts to bury the Atlantic Coast Pipeline scandal, the administration of Gov. Roy Cooper is finding it hard to deflect and explain away damning information that implies the primary ACP permit approval, aside from involving a $58 million personal slush fund for the governor, was evidently replete with crony backscratching for donors and special interest groups.
Nick Oschner of WBTV has been all over the administration asking some very good questions derived from a careful analysis of a near 20,000 page document dump related to the ACP deal dropped right before the Christmas holiday. Contained in those documents are records of communications between Cooper’s senior advisor Ken Eudy and Cooper’s general counsel William McKinney that strongly suggest they held the ACP permit hostage to demands that one of the investing energy companies, Duke Energy, submit to agreements to purchase more costly solar power.
Further, the solar power provider in question, Strata Solar, has a former business relationship with Cooper. He and his brother signed a leasing agreement for land in their native Nash County worth as much as $1 million a few years ago. What’s more is that the documents show that the solar company’s CEO, Markus Wilhelm, a donor to Cooper’s gubernatorial campaign in 2016, personally wrote a letter asking Cooper to intervene in the Duke Energy/solar providers negotiations to make sure the solar companies got a more lucrative agreement at Duke Energy’s (and rate payers’) expense.
When Cooper’s senior advisor texts the the general counsel saying, “Not sure we should sign the ACP agreement unless solar deal works,” it looks an awful lot like Cooper is abusing his leverage as governor to pay a lucrative favor back to a donor and crony. Alas, Cooper and his office say they were “completely separate” issues. Yeah, right. If you believe that in light of the released communications then I have some swampland to sell you.
On this count alone, Cooper appears to be more inclined to use the power of his office to shower special interest cronies with lucrative agreements than working in the best interest of the State and its citizens.
But that is hardly the only unethical (illegal?) action that Cooper took to benefit his solar crony friends. Let’s not forget the $58 million slush fund that was attached to the deal, it, too gained by abusing the leverage his office had over the key ACP permits, and served as the initial red flag in the ACP deal.
On top of the mitigation investments and projects the pipeline builders were required to put up by law and relevant agency regulations in order to build the pipeline, the $58 million slush fund agreement Cooper secured was written out as a ‘voluntary’ supplemental contribution by the energy companies, and was to be used for additional ‘mitigation’ purposes. Only the Cooper administration could control the money, and decide what it went towards, a blatant violation of the constitution, which requires that the legislature appropriate and allocate all such funds.
The kicker? In the agreement, the extra ‘mitigation’ (slush) funds were to be doled out to renewable energy projects (like Cooper’s Strata Solar CEO pal), and economic development projects in the pipeline’s Eastern North Carolina corridor where the Cooper’s land investments and solar partnerships are located.
So beyond holding the ACP permit hostage to Duke Energy forking over a ton more money to solar cronies, Cooper also demanded tens of millions of dollars that he could turn around, unencumbered, to use to further enrich his solar cronies, possibly benefiting his family’s investments. It would also be used to finance economic development projects in his home region that would enrich those and other crony pals of his, serve his political interests in as much he’d be buying favor for come election time, and, again, possibly enrich his family’s investments.
There is so much red meat to chew on here, the fact that all of the mainstream North Carolina press, with the exception of WBTV’s Oschner, isn’t hounding Cooper daily on this issue is indicative of just how personally invested they are in Cooper’s political success. If the facts were the same and the political party were different, those same press would be running ‘Corruption/Cronyism’ cover stories every week, and rightly so. The disparity in their zeal for honestly questioning Democrats and Republicans can be witnessed by how they cover scandals involving the Republican Speaker of the House, a leaky fuel tank, and a chicken plant.
Cooper already upset the environmentalist faction of the Democratic Party by approving a pipeline for fossil fuels. The facts coming out now, supporting the idea that he did so in a corrupt abuse of power to benefit special interest cronies, should give every Democrat pause when considering their fealty to Gov. Roy Cooper.