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Cooper spoke to Duke Energy CEO days before final pipeline decision, records show

The day after Gov. Roy Cooper had a telephone conversation with Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good, his staff set out to calm some of the governor’s nerves on the status of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, records show.

The phone call preceded the final days of issuing permitting for the natural gas pipeline.

Records obtained by the Insider through a public records request show that Cooper had a phone conversation with Good on Jan. 17, 2018. The day after that conversation, Ken Eudy, one of Cooper’s top aides, sent out an email to other senior staff members and Cooper’s primary campaign advisor asking for a “tick tock,” saying Cooper was “anxious” and “especially wants to understand how we think the word of the solar and mitigation agreements will get out.”

The email Eudy sent was provided to legislative leaders and media through a public records request and posted online by WRAL News.

In that same public records release, a text exchange between Cooper’s Chief of Staff Kristi Jones and Duke Energy Executive Vice President Lloyd Yates show Duke Energy felt the ACP approval process was “dragging.”

”Here is the issue,” Yates texted Jones on Jan. 16, 2018 — one day before Cooper spoke with Good. “Why does it seem that approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is dragging. How can we move it along. We have had a number of discussion with Eudy and slow progress s. [sic]”

The text exchange in the records released to lawmakers is dated Jan. 6, 2018. A Cooper spokesperson called the discrepancy a “typo.” A transcript of the texts was included in the documents released to lawmakers, and some of the screenshots of the text conversation appear in the documents as well.

The transcript not only included the wrong date, but it also misattributed a text to Yates when it was actually sent by Jones, according to screenshots of the conversation provided to the Insider by a Cooper spokesperson. Ten days after that text conversation, state regulators issued a key water permit for the pipeline.

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It is unclear what Cooper and Good discussed on that Jan. 17 call. The Insider asked Cooper’s spokesman Ford Porter for details about what was discussed, and he did not provide any specifics. The call to Good on Jan. 17, 2018 was not disclosed in the records provided to lawmakers. A public records request for Cooper’s daily schedule from Nov. 1, 2017, to Feb. 28, 2018, revealed the phone call.

The next day, movement on several key agreements for the pipeline sped up, records show. On Jan. 18, 2018, N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources General Counsel Phillip Feagan emailed Cooper’s top attorney William McKinney to say he would let McKinney know when the ACP’s programmatic agreement was signed.

McKinney then sent Feagan’s email to Eudy, who responded: “Don’t want to be hyper on this, but Phil and Kevin Cherry know that that mean’s [sic] signed and sent today, right?” McKinney responded to Eudy’s email with a single word: “Correct.”

Cherry is the deputy secretary of the DNCR. Other records have shown the Cooper administration sought to time the permit announcement with the announcement of a $58 million mitigation fund for the pipeline and an agreement between solar companies and Duke on a separate regulatory issue.

The connections between the permits and agreements is the subject of an investigation led by legislative Republicans. In a recent statement, the legislators leading the investigation contend there could be “potential pay-to-play activity” between the pipeline permits and agreements.

That same day, Karen Higgins, with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, sent out draft versions of the ACP’s 401 water quality certification and a denial letter to two of her DEQ colleagues. The 401 certification was signed and sent on Jan. 26, 2018 — the same day the $58 million mitigation fund was announced.

The records provided to the Insider also show that Cooper had a meeting with Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell in Raleigh on Feb. 2, 2018 — days after both conservative groups and environmentalists raised concerns about the mitigation fund. It’s unclear what Farrell and Cooper discussed, but the meeting took place at the Executive Mansion. The meeting with Farrell and the call with Good are the only items in Cooper’s calendar that appear to relate to the pipeline.

Cooper held several meetings with his staff members and DEQ Secretary Michael Regan that could have also been about the pipeline in the weeks leading up to the pipeline decision. The subjects of those meeting were not listed in the released schedule.

The Insider requested the records on Sept. 7, 2018. The request took more than five months to be fulfilled by Cooper’s office.

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