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Legislators point out obvious solution to Cooper’s worry about pipeline hearings

If you’ve been keeping up with Carolina Journal’s reporting on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline issue, you know there are significant questions about the Cooper administration’s handling of the permit process. So much so that the General Assembly has hired special investigators to “determine whether [Cooper’s] $57.8 million Atlantic Coast Pipeline discretionary fund was a political pay-to-play scheme.”

As Joe Coletti explained,

At issue is the $58 million Memorandum of Understanding announced by Cooper hours after the Department of Environmental Quality provided certification for work on the pipeline to continue on its route through eastern North Carolina. The permit was announced by DEQ on Jan. 26 and the MOU had been agreed to by both parties only the day before, raising questions of timing and pay-to-play. Eyebrows were raised further when it was revealed the agreement is between the ACP partners and Cooper himself, not the State of North Carolina.

The timing was suspect, as I noted from the outset. It came suddenly, after “months of [Gov. Cooper] being asked by people on all sides of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline issue to show leadership,” and the details had the unwelcome sound of

the kind of slush-fund shenanigans engaged in by governors past. Money (a) to secure a beneficial state action (b) placed into an account controlled by the governor (c) to be disbursed at the governor’s discretion to cronies (d) outside the legislative budgeting process?

This is not a good look. It’s the kind of stuff I wrote about in my Carolina Cronyism report (see pp. 14–16, citing previous Carolina Journal exposés).

Carolina Journal reported last week that Cooper responded to the latest request for information from legislators by issuing his own list of requested records in a Dec. 12 letter from his chief of staff, Kristi Jones, apparently to receive assurances the General Assembly isn’t “wasting state resources on hearings and investigators for political gain.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown (R-Onslow) and Rep. Dean Arp (R-Union), co-chairmen of the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, Atlantic Coast Pipeline subcommittee responded to Gov. Cooper in a letter on Dec. 17.

Among other things, the letter points out a rather glaring solution to Cooper’s affected concern about “politically motivated hearings and investigations that waste time and taxpayer money.”

To wit: the hearings on which the governor worries the people of North Carolina are wasting time and money on wouldn’t be necessary IF the governor would be open and transparent about pipeline permits and the Memorandum of Understanding. They pointed out Cooper’s “continued failure to respond to our February 16, 2018 and September 7, 2018 questions and to respond directly to our November 16, 2018 public records requests” and noted that Cooper acknowledged that “the General Assembly has a duty to oversee governmental operations,” which would necessarily include reviewing pipeline transactions:

This matter could have been concluded months ago; however, instead of cooperating and providing transparency into your actions you have repeatedly rejected inquiries in the this process for nearly a year. Therefore, to fulfill our government oversight duties, we have been forced to take the additional step of retaining independent investigative assistance.

The quickest way to bring this matter to a conclusion is for you to respond to our repeated inquiries and to answer our questions, which we submitted to your office over three months ago.

As for the governor’s records request, they point out that the governor has “no oversight duties over the General Assembly, and particularly not over the General Assembly’s ongoing investigations.” By extension, then, it is “a waste of time and resources for both your office and the General Assembly, as it has no possible purpose connected to your duties as Governor.”

Nevertheless, they added,

That said, as an example of how to act transparently and honestly, we will respond to Ms. Jones’ public records request in the new few days.

Please allow us to bring this matter to a conclusion by cooperating with our inquiries, and stop denying the people of North Carolina transparency into your office’s dealings with Atlantic Coast Pipeline, L.L.C.

So, do we hold out hope that we’ll see this cooperation emerge, or do we expect that the Cooper administration will try to dress up the information from the General Assembly as some sort of intolerable time-waster of a fishing expedition, much more scandalous than a potential pay-for-play scheme cooked up in the state’s highest executive office.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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