Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration has released thousands of documents related to the negotiations over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in response to records requests from the General Assembly and media outlets. At issue is how the governor came to control $57.8 million in cash from pipeline developers at the same time the pipeline got a key state permit.
Many of the 19,000+ documents are just emails from staffers forwarding news articles to one another. But the very first document provided is also one of the most interesting: A 16-page transcript of an interview between senior Cooper advisor Ken Eudy and WRAL.
It paints a fascinating portrait of how negotiations between government and business happen at the highest level. It also shows how deep the divide is between the General Assembly and the governor, and how much partisan differences influence how state business is conducted.
In the undated interview, Eudy says that Gov. Cooper was in negotiations with Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good at the same time her company was pursuing the pipeline permit. However, Eudy says Cooper drew a “bright line” between his discussions about solar energy in North Carolina and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline permit. The state Department of Environmental Quality head said he “had no choice but to” approve the permit, and it would have gone through with or without the cash payment, Eudy says.
But the transcript also describes in great detail how the “voluntary agreement” to provide the $57.8 million came to be and how the Cooper administration decided how to handle the money.
It also raises questions about how independent the two processes really were.
Here’s a rough outline of how the Atlantic Coast Pipeline deal went down, according to Ken Eudy.
Jan 1, 2017: Roy Cooper is inaugurated governor.
February 2017: Duke Energy and Dominion Energy, the two developers of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, send top exeuctives to meet with Gov. Cooper. They want him and the governors of Virginia and West Virginia to sign a joint letter endorsing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Cooper refuses. The administration drafts a letter that only Cooper would sign, but end up scrapping the plan.
September 2017: The state Department of Environmental Quality temporarily denies the Atlantic Coast Pipeline permit due to some questions about sediment. Duke and Dominion set out to answer those questions.
October 2017: Cooper and senior administration staff meet to discuss energy priorities. Afterward, Cooper asks DEQ head Michael S. Regan and commerce head Tony Copeland to stay after to discuss the Atlantic Coast Pipeline permit’s progress. They also discuss how natural gas pipelines could spur economic development in eastern North Carolina.
Early December 2017: Cooper holds a sit-down meeting with Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good. They discuss recent legislation about solar energy, and Cooper asks Good to re-engage with solar energy developers. The two also discuss the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and Cooper asks Good to think about how more natural gas connections could be made between the pipeline and eastern North Carolina. Cooper taps Ken Eudy from his administration and Good taps Kathy Hawkins to continue the conversation.
Mid-December 2017: Hawkins delivers the Cooper administration a draft agreement to give the state of North Carolina a lump sum of money. The agreement is virtually identical to one delivered to Virginia, and offered $57.8 million to “mitigate” environmental impacts to forest and water. Virginia’s money goes to a collection of public and private entities. Cooper rejects the agreement, saying he wants money to go to economic development.
The Cooper administration edits the agreement to send money to economic development and renewable energy instead. Eudy talks to Jim Blaine, then working for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, and mentions that they are working on sending money to economic development.
Blaine says that sounds good, and that Berger would want to be involved. The Cooper administration decides to cut them out, saying, “We made the call soon after that that we were not going to ask them for help, that money would end up going to some baseball field in Rutherford County, or wherever,” Eudy says.
The Cooper administration debates whether to send the cash to a new 501(c)3. They decide to let the governor dictate how the money is spent by executive order. The Cooper administration also comes up with the term “voluntary contribution.”
Late December 2017: Cooper and the head of DEQ debrief on the situation. Cooper tells DEQ about the agreement. DEQ says they have “no choice but to” issue the permit.
January 24, 2018: Cooper meets with environmental advocates to warn them that the permit is about to be approved.
January 26, 2018: DEQ issues the permit and Cooper announces the cash agreement, which had been signed the previous day.
The transcript also shows a lot of partisan bickering.
For the record, WRAL did a pretty admirable job asking the right questions. Here’s the story that resulted from this interview.
There are a bunch of other tidbits that will be interesting to N.C. political insiders that didn’t make it to print for obvious reasons. Cooper’s spokespeople joke about Tom Campbell and N.C. Spin getting kicked off of WRAL. Eudy asks if he “had a good breakup with Capitol Broadcasting.” A spokeswoman describes the show as “a bunch of old white guys.”
There’s also lot of partisan bickering.
Eudy at one point says: “That’s what Tim Moore says in the beginning of every caucus meeting: No win for Cooper.”
Also: “We could put Jesus Christ over there and they would not pass any of our legislation.”
Feel free to read for yourself. Thanks to WRAL for making all the documents accessible.
Cover image of a train hauling pipes for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline near the N.C. border by Mark Levisay via Flickr (Creative Commons).