Reflections on Governor Cooper’s Decision to Permit the ACP

Gas Pipeline

Lisa Sorg, of NC Policy Watch, wrote an article on January 3, 2019 in response to the thousands of pages of emails and documents recently made available as the result of a public records request following Governor Cooper’s controversial $57.8 million deal with Dominion Energy over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Sorg’s article is worth reading. Below are reflections from contributing writer, Steve Norris, who has spent the past three years working with regional activists fighting against the ACP and other fracked gas infrastructure planned for North Carolina.

By Steve Norris

There are many things to be learned from Lisa Sorg’s article. Here’s my initial reflections:

    1. Please keep in mind that Governor Cooper in a recent interview with WRAL said that NC DEQ bears complete responsibility “ALONE” for permitting it, and that he played no role in DEQ’s decision regarding the pipeline. This article clearly shows that Cooper was lying during that interview. Why would he need to lie?
    2. The article says: “Duke Energy and Dominion Energy had exclusive access to the governor’s office. The natural gas industry deployed a full-court press to convince Gov. Cooper and his energy policy director, Jeremy Tarr, that the ACP was a worthwhile project.

      Tom Farrell, CEO of Dominion, and Lynn Good, CEO of Duke, met with Cooper several times. In some cases, no staff was present; the meetings were one-on-one. In others, staff from the Commerce Department also attended. In one meeting, Farrell met with Cooper to discuss Dominion’s merger with SCANA, a natural gas company.

      Aubrey Hilliard of Texican, the largest natural gas marketer in the US, met with Cooper and DEQ staff, including Assistant Secretary Sheila Holman, to discuss the need for the ACP, Transco pipeline expansions and the possibility of extending the project into South Carolina.

      These meetings, in my mind, are more important that the $57 million slush fund. We the citizens of NC were given the illusion of democracy in the hearings which DEQ held in the summer of 2017 along the ACP route. And in our meetings with Jeremy Tarr, Commissioner Regan, and other DEQ staff. They always seemed to be listening and taking us seriously, but clearly they were not. We the people of NC, and especially those who live along the pipeline route and who are immediately impacted by it, were ignored. To my knowledge (I may be wrong) none of the leaders of the environmental groups, or those living in the path of the ACP,  were able to meet with Cooper, even though attempts were made to set up meetings. At the same time Cooper was meeting privately with Duke and Dominion CEOs, and a lobbyist for the largest gas marketer in the US.  What does this say about democracy?
    3. The timing was designed to show how the fund and a solar agreement with Duke Energy that would boost that energy sector “helped counterbalance the carbon impact and a small number of permanent jobs resulting from the ACP construction. It sounds like the $57 million slush fund was a totally naive attempt by Cooper to offset ACP greenhouse gas emissions with a solar agreement with Duke. Since the GHG impacts of the ACP are so enormous, it seems to me any “solar agreement” with Duke to counterbalance ACP carbon impacts would be like using a glass of water to quell a nuclear explosion. Are Cooper and Regan that misinformed?
    4. At a minimum this article shows that DEQ’s granting of the 401 water quality permit was a sham and a perversion of  due process, and of democratic procedures designed originally to protect the public welfare. Perhaps there’s ground for lawsuits?

I am sure there are more possible takeaways and conclusions to be drawn from this article.

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