An ongoing funding controversy is affecting and threatening the development of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in North Carolina. The pipeline would go through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina and stands to have a significant impact on the environment. It is also meant to generate jobs in states where the pipeline runs through.
The pipeline has been criticized from the beginning by a broad coalition of people ranging from educators to environmentalists. Though there have been a variety of hotly debated topics surrounding it, current scrutiny derives from the funding process and approach taken by North Carolina Governor, Roy Cooper.
This is not a new political development as back in February, some members of the North Carolina Republican Party tried to pursue a criminal investigation against the governor after realizing that on the same day that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline received a key permit to commence construction of the pipeline, the company paid one of the governor’s offices 58 million dollars.
Key Republican leadership accused the Cooper administration of engaging in pay-to-play politics and policymaking. The closeness of both of these events could certainly look improper to many, but the governor assured critics that the incidents were not connected. He claimed that the companies were paying into the fund out of good will, rather than to push an agenda.
State Republicans feel that this is executive overreach and that money acquired in this way should be considered state funds. According to the North Carolina State Constitution, state funds can only be appropriated by the General Assembly and not the executive branch of the state.
Analysis and questions from a Republican-led oversight committee created to investigate the funding of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline have led to outrage and frustration. One example of such frustration comes from state Senator Paul Newton (R-36) of Cabarrus County.
“Why did Gov. Cooper think he had the right to appropriate and get these funds?” asked Newton. Newton was once an employee of Duke Energy, a company that is one of the co-owners of the pipeline.
Various factors added to the suspicions surrounding the funding process and added credibility to the oversight hearing. Two crucial factors included the decision by the Cooper administration to hire Lee Liley. Liley lobbies for Dominion within a week of signing a Memorandum of Understanding, which helps facilitate the construction of the pipeline. The payment made by the companies including Dominion and Duke Energy to the governor’s administration has also added to the claims against Cooper.
Initially, the payment made by the group of companies behind the project was going to go to local businesses to help ensure environmental safety. After the Republican Party of North Carolina learned about the payment and questioned it, they passed a bill to transfer that money out of Governor Cooper’s hands and into a fund for schools near the pipeline. Rather than veto this bill, North Carolina’s governor merely cautioned that this could mean that the money might not go into anyone’s hands or benefit anyone at all.