A Republican investigation into Gov. Roy Cooper’s influence on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project concluded that he “improperly used the authority and influence of his office."
The investigation was started in 2017 by Republican leaders in the General Assembly, which hired independent investigators to look into funds under the governor’s control that they say were used as leverage to influence the partners of the pipeline.
The partners of the ACP project are Duke Energy, Dominion Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Gas Company. The pipeline is planned to stretch 600 miles, starting in West Virginia and traveling through Virginia and eastern North Carolina, according to the project’s website.
The report, released on Nov. 20, suggests the governor’s office insisted that the partners contribute to the $55 million fund in order to receive the permits necessary to continue the construction of the pipeline. It further claims the governor used his influence to delay the issuance of permits until the partners agreed to increase the fund to $57.8 million.
In the report, Lynn Good, President and CEO of Duke Energy, said the governor did not make the ability to get required permits conditional on the creation of the fund or the resolution of the dispute. However, the report indicated that she did understand Cooper wanted those things done by the end of December 2017, around the same time the permits were needed.
Tammie McGee, spokesperson for Duke Energy, said the investigators concluded that Duke Energy and ACP partners followed all laws and regulations related to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality's permitting process.
"We fully cooperated with requests for information and strictly followed the Department of Environmental Quality’s rigorous permitting process," McGee said in an email to The Daily Tar Heel.
The fund was originally thought of as something to contribute to the extension of gas lines for economic development, something that ACP executives said was unnecessary, according to the report. Later, the fund was changed to be about environmental mitigation as well as economic development.
The ACP has mitigation fund agreements with both Virginia and West Virginia, McGee said.
Around the time the fund was first being discussed, Duke Energy and the solar industry were involved in a dispute over a section of House Bill 589, known as the Nameplate Dispute, according to the report.
The report alleged that the governor attempted to influence the ACP partners in a manner that benefitted solar energy companies.
However, the report also said no information found in the investigation showed that Cooper “personally benefited” from the creation of the mitigation fund or the nameplate dispute settlement.
According to a press release from Cooper’s spokesperson, Ford Porter, the report further stated that no one in the governor’s office interfered with the issuance of permits, that Duke did not think their permits were contingent on the fund or settlement, and that the governor did not benefit from any of this.
In the press release, the governor’s office said all Republicans have done successfully is “hijack a fund meant to help with economic development in Eastern North Carolina."
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