Under the Dome

NC Democrat apologizes for pipeline comment that Cooper’s critics used against him

State Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County speaks during a debate at the General Assembly in Raleigh in March 2016. Harrison said on Feb. 15 that she regrets how she characterized Gov. Roy Cooper’s agreement with companies that want to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
State Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County speaks during a debate at the General Assembly in Raleigh in March 2016. Harrison said on Feb. 15 that she regrets how she characterized Gov. Roy Cooper’s agreement with companies that want to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. rwillett@newsobserver.com

An ethics complaint filed against Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper cites a Democratic legislator’s comments as evidence that Cooper may have violated state laws when his administration approved a permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Now the lawmaker, state Rep. Pricey Harrison of Greensboro, is seeking to correct the record, saying the quote has caused a “misunderstanding.”

Donald Bryson, president of The Civitas Institute, on Wednesday announced that he filed the complaint against Cooper with the state Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement. The complaint questions whether Cooper’s administration might have violated state laws when it approved a permit for the pipeline to run through Eastern North Carolina and set up a mitigation fund, to which companies building the pipeline agreed to donate $57.8 million.

Bryson’s complaint contends that the donation wasn’t voluntary but was required for the pipeline companies to acquire the necessary construction permits from the state Department of Environmental Quality – and it references comments by Harrison in a WRAL story.

“I wasn’t involved in the negotiations, but I understand that that was part of the process,” Harrison is quoted saying. “It wasn’t that they were paying $57 million or whatever it was to get the permit. It was just that that was a condition of getting the permit granted was the access to this fund that would try to undo some of the damage that was created by the pipeline...”

On Facebook Wednesday night, Harrison posted what she’s calling a correction. She said she regrets that she didn’t “more artfully or precisely tailor” her comments to WRAL.

“The fund, established in the Memorandum of Understanding, which would be used to protect against environmental degradation created by the pipeline as well as for economic development projects in the affected counties, was negotiated SEPARATELY from the permitting of the project,” Harrison wrote.

“It was not connected to the permitting of the project. My initial comments to WRAL were inaccurate on that point, and I apologize for this misunderstanding,” she continued. “Although I strongly oppose the pipeline, I have full confidence in the thorough and rigorous review conducted by DEQ, and am also confident in their assurances that they will hold these developers accountable. It is unfortunate that the majority party redirected this fund in HB90 (passed by the House yesterday), putting the entire funding, meant to help communities impacted by the pipeline, at risk.”

Bryson, for his part, called on Harrison to share what she knows about how the fund was negotiated.

“... even if the fund and the pipeline were negotiated separately, that does not diminish the fact that Governor Cooper could potentially benefit (or have benefited) from the fund and thus created a breach of ethics,” he said. “Representative Harrison wants to set the record straight, but the problem appears to be the lack of a record all together.”

Republican state Sen. Harry Brown of Jacksonville emailed the N&O to express his confusion over Harrison’s clarification.

“For more than a week, including participating in a Joint Appropriations Committee meeting last Thursday that covered her comments on the Cooper-Pipeline scandal, Rep. Pricey Harrison stood by her statement connecting the $58M the ACP gave to Roy Cooper’s slush fund to the Cooper administration’s approval of the pipeline permit,” Brown said. “I wonder what happened yesterday to make her change her story?”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

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