Raleigh – Over the course of just one month, Republicans have lurched from one made-up conspiracy about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) fund to the next, launching a new accusation once the previous gets shot down. Their “throw accusations against a wall and see what sticks” approach reveals that this is all election year, partisan politics – except unlike other partisan games, tens of millions of dollars in economic development and good jobs in eastern NC are on the chopping block.
First, Republicans ambushed the Governor’s staff and held a kangaroo court and partisan press conference on the House floor. Afterward, journalists remarked how the “ambush of Lee Lilley” was coordinated for pure partisan theatrics, with GOP staffers telling reporters beforehand, “make sure to be in this committee meeting because there are going to be fireworks.”
Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon and House Rules Chairman David Lewis then labelled the ACP Fund “pay-for-permit.” The claim was exposed a day later by columnist Tom Campbell, who wrote, “there was no ‘quid-pro-quo agreement.’” Last week, DEQ put the nail in the coffin, stating, “The permits are not connected to that MOU.”
“In July of 2017, while the fate of the pipeline was uncertain, a group of concerned rural leaders met with some of the owners of the proposed pipeline in the offices of The North Carolina Farm Bureau … Specifically these discussions focused on how to mitigate potential environmental problems, but also economic development issues, like the need to run spurs to communities and counties not directly in the path of the line.”
…which WRAL then confirmed:
“[Durwood] Stephenson, Norris Tolson and Larry Wooten, the president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau, had been talking to Duke’s North Carolina president, David Fountain, about the pipeline for months … The pipeline folks had asked Stephenson, Tolson and Wooten for support, and they got it. But the trio wanted millions to help small and medium-sized businesses access the gas. Stephenson said the ask was $100 million. Fountain eventually agreed to something in the ballpark of $50 million to $60 million, he said.”
Republicans moved on to new claims that the ACP Fund would financially benefit Gov. Cooper. That didn’t hold water for one day. According to attorney and lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government Norma Houston, “[Gov. Cooper] has not taken any action that would result in a financial benefit to him or his immediate family.”
Finally, GOP leaders have been desperate to frame this as a nefarious fund that Governor Cooper could direct to his political allies. As internal emails show, however, what’s good for eastern NC – not politics – drove the establishment of the fund:
“Commerce’s primary concern, the emails show, involved the ability of North Carolina companies to directly tap into the pipeline for their own natural gas needs. In its Oct. 18 email, ACP claimed it will allow large customers or groups of customers to directly tap into the line – but at a cost. A tap with a metering and regulating station could cost $3 million to $5 million or more, according to the documents.”
As Governor Cooper and others have reiterated, the fund would be controlled independent of the Governor’s office:
“Cooper’s staff negotiated an agreement for the utilities to pay $57.8 million into a fund that would be controlled by independent state authorities or trusts and subject to public records laws.”
As Republicans continue to lurch from one conspiracy to another, the only thing clear is that partisan politics is their sole driving force – and that they’ll have to explain to voters why scoring cheap political points was worth raiding a fund created to bring new jobs to eastern NC.
“Republicans from day one have tried desperately to undermine Governor Cooper by raiding much-needed economic development efforts for eastern North Carolina, flailing from one absurd conspiracy to the next,” NCDP Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds said. “Their actions continue to reveal that their only motivation is election year partisan politics. Once the dust settles, Republicans will have to explain to voters why partisan games were worth costing eastern North Carolina new jobs and millions in economic development.”