Natural gas pipelines have become troublesome for North Gov. Roy Cooper and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats.
Gov. Cooper is under criticism for, according to an 82-page report prepared by Eagle Intel Services, “improperly” using influence on the proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline now mired in federal court, that aimed to move natural gas from West Virginia to Robeson County in southeast North Carolina.
Gov. Cuomo is under criticism for blocking shale fracking in upstate New York and, says The Wall Street Journal, blocking several pipelines “delivering natural gas from Pennsylvania in the name of protecting waterways.”
In North Carolina, an investigation by private investigators hired by Republican lawmakers to examine how Gov. Cooper’s administration handled permitting of the ACP found, said WRAL.com, that he didn’t personally benefit from actions he and his administration took.
But the report given to a legislative oversight Wednesday, continued WRAL, said, “It would be reasonable to conclude” [Gov. Cooper] “improperly used the authority and influence of his office to obtain a $57.8 million fund from Duke Energy and other pipeline developers and concessions from Duke to benefit the state’s burgeoning solar energy industry.”
In January 2018, said WRAL, environmental regulators approved a key permit for the pipeline, and “Less than an hour later, the administration also announced the $57.8 million mitigation fund that pipeline operators would put money into and Cooper would control.”
Labeled a “slush fund” by Republicans, the money was to pay “for economic development, renewable energy and environmental mitigation,” says Carolina Journal columnist John Hood. Saying the N.C. Constitution gives the General Assembly, not the governor, control over state spending, Mr. Hood says the money was redirected to school districts in the eight North Carolina counties on the pipeline route.
The Eagle Services report said Gov. Cooper’s administration initially asked for $80 million, “but both sides agreed in January 2018 to $57.8 million to match the size of a similar fund pipeline operators were providing in Virginia.”
Saying “Gov. Cooper continued to use his authority and influence to delay the ACP permitting process until the ACP partners [led by Duke Energy and Virginia’s Dominion Energy] agreed to increase the fund amount [it started at $50 million] to $57.8 million … The above facts indicate the governor’s office was asking for more money that was initially offered by Duke, showing the fund was not voluntary.”
Telling federal regulators roughly a year ago that permitting delays were costing them $70 million a month and the Cooper administration had leverage over the timing of permits such as 401 Water Quality Permits, ACP officials suggest Gov. Cooper used his influence to extract funds. Gov. Cooper disagrees, saying, during Wednesday’s “Thanksgiving turkey pardon,” “The facts are on our side.”
Yesterday, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who will oppose Gov. Cooper in 2020, said, “It is clear that the FBI Public Corruption Unit should be involved. Gov. Cooper’s top aide left an email and text trail that shows the Cooper administration lied.
“The CEO of Duke Energy says she met face-to-face, alone, with the governor; the governor denies such a meeting took place. Someone is lying,” he said. “The governor says he did not sign off on the pipeline, but emails, timelines, and texts from his top aides say otherwise. Someone is lying. The governor’s top aide claims the creation of the fund was Duke Energy’s idea and Duke Energy states otherwise. Someone is lying.”
Because of pipeline constraints in New York, the utility Con Edison stopped natural gas hookups north of New York City in March. That hurt upstate New Yorkers who pay among the highest energy prices in the U.S.
And this fall after Gov. Cuomo vetoed a 23-mile gas pipeline beneath New York Harbor, National Grid, the natural gas company that serves Long Island, stopped natural gas hookups because it couldn’t guarantee uninterrupted service. Now it’s delivering gas by truck, raising gas emissions.
Gov. Cuomo says, adds the Journal, that if the company doesn’t “repair his pipeline blunder by Thanksgiving” he’ll end its public franchise. So the next franchisee would become a scapegoat “for the governor’s destructive energy policies.”
Which points out that the dilemmas of energy faced by government will only grow.