On Dec. 11, 2017, Gov. Roy Cooper, Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Michael Regan and Dominion Energy began discussing a mitigation fund concerning the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The pipeline, upon completion, will transport natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia and North Carolina, although some have expressed concerns about the environmental damage that the pipeline could cause to water quality. The agreement reached between Gov. Cooper’s office and Dominion Energy, outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), stated that Dominion Energy and Duke Energy would pay a $57.8 million fund to an escrow of Gov. Cooper’s choosing. Rather than going to the state treasury, Gov. Cooper states that he planned to use the money for economic development and renewable energy projects in areas impacted by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline–although this was not laid out in writing, and was expected to be included in a future executive order.
The final MOU and details of the fund were released to the public on Jan. 26, 2018, only 21 minutes after the DEQ publicly approved a key water quality permit. The timing of these coinciding announcements has led Republican lawmakers to claim that the fund was merely payment for the water quality permit. Gov. Cooper has responded by saying that these Republican attacks are political, insisting that they are rather challenging his authority. His office has stated that the timing of the announcements was done purposely to demonstrate how the fund and agreement with Dominion Energy would help “counterbalance the carbon impact and small number of permanent jobs resulting from the [Atlantic Coast Pipeline] construction.”
Over the summer, state legislatures passed a law which regained control of the fund from Gov. Cooper and rerouted the money, not yet paid by Dominion Energy or Duke Energy, to school districts in the counties affected by the pipeline.
During the fall, the General Assembly held hearings on the matter and a legislative subcommittee hired a private firm of special agents to investigate a connection between the MOU and the pipeline. Additionally, the General Assembly, news media, and environmental advocates requested information on the deal. This then led to Gov. Cooper’s office releasing over 5,700 documents on Dec. 20, 2018 in response, which have since been uploaded to a searchable database on WRAL News. Included in the documents are emails, news articles, press releases, interviews, and news alerts. One of these emails described the pipeline as, “getting bad press, but for businesses, it’s a no-brainer.”
Both proponents of the pipeline and opponents have since placed enormous pressure on Gov. Cooper and the DEQ. The governor’s office has been overrun with thousands of letters; some, such as environmental philanthropist Fred Stanback, have surmised that the pipeline would only “lock the state into fossil fuels for the next 40 years,” while others believe it will have great economic benefits through the creation of jobs.
Construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is currently stopped, due to a federal permit recently cancelled by the Fourth Circuit of Appeals that would have let the pipeline cross two national forests.