agriculture, Governor Roy Cooper

Cooper to Trump: End government shutdown, provide federal funds for hurricane recovery, NC farmers

Governor Roy Cooper is pressing President Donald Trump to end the federal government shutdown.

In a letter released Wednesday, Gov. Cooper wrote that the long-term work to rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence is being delayed each day the shutdown continues. The shutdown is also negatively impacting farmers hoping to plan for this year’s planting season and need help from the US Department of Agriculture.

Here’s an excerpt from the governor’s letter:

“While we continue the short-term recovery with FEMA’s help, our critical long-term work to rebuild stronger and smarter is delayed with every day that federal funds are held in Washington,” Gov. Cooper wrote in the letter sent today.

In April 2018, North Carolina was notified of a $168 million award of Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) from the US Housing and Urban Development to make the state’s flood-prone areas safer. The state remains unable to use these funds until guidance is published in the Federal Register, which cannot happen while the federal government remains shuttered.

In September, a HUD appropriation for 2018 storms including Hurricane Florence was enacted as part of the FAA reauthorization bill but awaits allocation to affected states. The $1.68 billion allocated will be shared by North Carolina and other states recovering from natural disasters, but without guidance states are left waiting to learn how much funding they will receive and how best to put these funds to work for recovery and mitigation.

The shutdown also limits North Carolina’s access to HUD experts needed to help with rebuilding efforts in the state. In addition, North Carolina farmers are without help from federal agriculture experts at a critical time.

“The government shutdown is also threatening the livelihood of our farmers, many of whom were swamped by the same hurricane waters that destroyed homes and businesses,” Gov. Cooper wrote in his letter. “Help from the US Department of Agriculture for hurricane affected farms is unavailable, and farmers hoping to plan for this year’s planting season are running out of time. “

“During your visit following Hurricane Florence, you promised me the 100% support of the federal government in North Carolina’s recovery. This shutdown makes that promise harder to keep. Please work with Congressional leaders to end this shutdown so our communities can rebuild quickly and effectively.”

Read the full letter here.

Earlier this week the National Governors Association called on President Trump and congressional leaders to immediately end the partial federal government shutdown that began Dec. 22.

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper

Cooper administration’s dump of 19,000 documents shows who knew what when about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Gov. Roy Cooper and Secretary of the Environment  Michael Regan discussed a controversial agreement with Dominion Energy about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, but in a review of the first 1,854 pages of a public records request, there is no evidence of a pay-to-play agreement for a key water quality permit.

However, there are 17,000 documents to go.

The information was included among the more than 19,000 pages of documents that Gov. Cooper’s office provided to lawmakers, the media and other records requesters yesterday at 5:30 p.m.  The media and some environmental advocates had requested the records 10 months ago.

This fall, lawmakers formed a Joint Government Operations subcommittee, which, after several attempts to informally get records from the governor, filed a formal public records request. The subcommittee also hired Eagle Intel, a private firm of three former special agents — one FBI and two IRS — to investigate the governor’s office and the circumstances behind the MOU.

In a letter, Gov. Cooper’s office told lawmakers earlier this month that the records would be provided by Dec. 20.

A year ago, on Dec. 11, 2017, Ken Eudy, senior adviser to Gov. Cooper, asked to meet with Regan and William McKinney, the governor’s legal counsel, about an “outline of an agreement” — the Memorandum of Understanding. That MOU, which is non-binding, established a voluntary $57.8 million fund to boost economic development and renewable energy projects in the eight counties along the 160-mile route through eastern North Carolina. The governor, not the legislature, would have ultimately decided how the money was spent.

“I want to make sure we’re aligned internally,” Eudy wrote to Regan and McKinney.

Regan was concerned about the environmental damage — to waterways, wildlife habitats and forests — that pipeline construction could cause. The permitting process for all aspects of the ACP had been lengthy. DEQ had repeatedly asked Dominion, which co-owns the ACP with Duke Energy, for more information before ultimately granting the water quality permit.

“Michael, the governor has been especially firm that we need to achieve the environmental protections that you and the department believe you need.” The MOU went through several drafts; at one point, the fund figure was $80 million.

The governor’s office publicly released the final MOU on Friday Jan. 26, 2018, at 12:53 p.m. — just 21 minutes after DEQ had announced it was granting the water quality permit.

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The timing proved to be problematic. It immediately stoked suspicions among environmental advocates and Republican lawmakers — a rare alliance — that the fund was essentially payment for the permit.

Throughout the summer, lawmakers asked DEQ officials in committee meetings about their knowledge of the MOU. On several occasions, Division of Water Resources Director Linda Culpepper told lawmakers that she didn’t know about the MOU, “and I’m the one that signed that 401 [water quality permit] certification. I didn’t know about that fund [until] I saw it in the media after I had signed that permit, and it had been issued.”

Assistant Secretary of the Environmental Sheila Holman also told lawmakers she didn’t know about the MOU. None of the emails included in the first 1,854 pages was sent to either Culpepper or Holman. The only DEQ leadership involved in these emails was Regan and Deputy Secretary Doug Heyl.

The governor’s office, though, did know the timing of DEQ’s permit approval. Communications Director Sadie Weiner and Deputy Chief of Staff Julia White edited the DEQ press before it was released.

The fund has been fallow since its inception. In the summer, the legislature then commandeered control of the fund, passing a law that diverted the money to public school districts along the route. None of the money has been disbursed. Construction on the ACP has been halted because the Fourth Circuit of Appeals recently vacated a federal permit that would have allowed the pipeline to cross two national forests. The court ruled that Forest Service officials had “abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources.”

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature

Private firm to investigate Gov. Cooper’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline deal: “We have no political agenda”

A private firm formed by three former federal agents will investigate Gov. Roy Cooper’s controversial memorandum of understanding with Dominion Energy over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

At a subcommittee meeting today, lawmakers announced they had hired Eagle Intel, based in Wilmington, to conduct the investigation. The firm, composed of Frank Brostrom, Tom Beers and Kevin Greene, incorporated last year. Brostrom worked for the FBI, and Beers and Greene for the Internal Revenue Service. Their areas of expertise focused on tax evasion and financial and political corruption, as well as organized crime and terrorism cases.

This is not a criminal probe, but a civil one, prompted by legislative oversight, said Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican from Onslow County.

The firm charges $100 an hour for its services, but until the investigation is under way, it’s unknown what the final cost will be.

Under the non-binding MOU signed by Cooper and Dominion nearly a year ago, the Virginia-based utility and Duke Energy, co-owners of ACP, LLC, would pay $57.8 million for economic development and renewable energy projects along the 160-mile route through eastern North Carolina. The announcement of the MOU coincided by just hours with the Department of Environmental Quality’s granting of a key water quality permit for the project.

Republican lawmakers then introduced and passed House Bill 90, which funneled the money away from its original purpose and toward public schools in the affected counties. However, no money has been disbursed yet. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has not issued its final construction permits for part of the route in North Carolina, which would trigger half of the amount to be due.

The other half of the money would be payable when the ACP is completed. That could take years. Last week, a federal appeals court halted all construction on the 600-mile pipeline over US Fish and Wildlife’s questionable assessment of the project’s potential damage to endangered species.

DEQ and the governor’s office have denied working in tandem on the timing of the permit and the MOU. But Republican lawmakers want Eagle Intel to determine if the MOU involved “pay-to-play” — that the voluntary monetary contribution smoothed the way for the water quality permit.

Lawmakers, led by a Republican majoriy, informally requested documents from the governor’s office and DEQ about the MOU, but never received them, despite multiple inquiries. They filed a formal public records request last month. (Environmental advocates and the media, including Policy Watch, likewise filed records requests from the governor and received no documents of significance; the requests have yet to be completely fulfilled.)

Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat on the panel that hired Eagle Intel, said the governor’s office and DEQ are expected to provide documents by Dec. 20. “I think it’s premature to investigate,” McKissick said.

But the governor’s office, as if to say, “touche’,” filed its own records request with lawmakers. In a document dated today, Dec. 12, Kristi Jones, the governor’s chief of staff, formally asked for voluminous information that could reveal whether Republican lawmakers’ concerns are legitimate or merely a power play. Among the governor’s request is communications among legislators, staff and any third parties, including the state Republican Party, executive director Dallas Woodhouse and chairman Robin Hayes.

The agents, who were present at today’s subcommittee meeting, emphasized that they have “no political agenda, no dog in the fight.”

“We will follow where the facts lead us,” Brostrom said.

According to voter registration records, Brostrom and Greene are registered Republicans; Beers is unaffiliated.

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature

FERC approves construction to begin in NC on Atlantic Coast Pipeline; status of $57.8 million fund still uncertain

The segments in red indicate where construction on the pipeline is to begin this year; construction is scheduled for 2019 along the segment in blue. (Map: Atlantic Coast Pipeline)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is allowing construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to begin in North Carolina, according to a notice issued late yesterday.

But it’s unclear what this final approval means for the $57.8 million escrow fund agreed to by Gov. Roy Cooper and Dominion Energy and Duke Energy.

Construction had already begun on the compressor station near Pleasant Hill in Northampton County, as well as an office building and a metering and regulation station . The FERC notice now allows ACP, LLC, which is co-owned by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, to start major excavation along most of the route.

Construction has been occurring in West Virginia for several months; however FERC has yet to give final approval for it to begin in Virginia.

FERC’s approval would have also triggered the launch of a $57.8 million escrow account, under a controversial Memorandum of Understanding between Gov. Cooper and Dominion Energy, signed on Jan. 25. Under that voluntary agreement, Dominion and Duke were to deposit half that amount –$29 million — into the account upon receiving FERC’s final notice to proceed.

That money was to be used for environmental mitigation — even though those measures had been requirement in state environmental permits — renewable energy, and to enhance economic development in communities along the route. One of ACP, LLC’s  main talking points was that the pipeline itself would spark economic development. But many critics of the project noted that it would cost millions of dollars for industry to connect to the pipeline. This money would have presumably helped with those connection fees, although it’s unclear how and who would determine the recipients of the funds.

But the legislature passed a law earlier this year to negate the agreement. Instead, the money would go to school districts in counties along the route. However, since the MOU was voluntary and between the utilities and the governor, the new law jeopardized the fund. Duke Energy spokeswoman Tammie McGee said that details on the utilities’ disbursements are not yet fleshed out.

 

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature

State budget: DEQ still snubbed, plus Jordan Lake rules delayed again and an odd line item for Charlotte

The state budget: Stingy (again) toward DEQ (Creative Commons)

The state budget, having secretly curdled inside Republican bill writers for several weeks, was finally served to the public last night just before 9 p.m. At 748 pages long — including the conference report-– and weighing more than a pound, the financial blueprint for the next fiscal year spoils most hopes of  environmental protection for North Carolinians.

Republicans tweaked the GenX portion of the bill, which had already been divulged in the Water Safety Act. But the the minor tinkering did nothing to address perennial underfunding of the Department of Environmental Quality. Conservative lawmakers still snubbed the agency, appropriating $2.3 million for long overdue water and permitting projects. Lest that sound like a significant figure, over the past seven years, lawmakers have cut DEQ’s budget so deeply that $2.3 million is the equivalent of finding $20 in a winter coat pocket. Nice to have, but it won’t go far.

This section of the bill does remove the unfunded mandate lawmakers had saddled DEQ with: to develop a monitoring, remediation and corrective action plan for fluorinated compounds in public and private water supplies. That project — on its face, prudent and essential — disappeared because lawmakers refused to fund it.

Instead, the NC Collaboratory, a think tank headquartered at UNC Chapel Hill, received nearly three times that amount, raking in $5 million to essentially do what DEQ is statutorily charged with doing to rein in emerging contaminants — but without the regulatory authority. The Collaboratory, run by rainmakers Brad Ives, a former assistant secretary for DENR (now DEQ), and Jeffrey Warren, the former research director for Sen. Phil Berger, did take a “hit” in that its original appropriation in the Water Safety Act was $8 million. (The Collaboratory got another $1 million to analyze water quality issues in the Haw River and to continue its analysis in Jordan Lake.)

The GenX part of the Water Safety Act, as Policy Watch reported last week, contains several legal and constitutional pitfalls regarding the governor’s power that the budget only partially addresses. The Environmental Management Commission is designated as the rulemaking authority, wise, because that’s the EMC’s role. Several procedural changes attempt to circumvent the potential for a prolonged contested case appeal, should Chemours disagree with the governor’s shut down of its facility.

The bill does try to confront the serious legal chain of custody issues that outsourcing data collection and analysis to the university system presents, but it’s hardly foolproof. Somewhere, Chemours lawyers are lighting cigars.

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