Under the Dome

‘Shameful.’ ‘Beyond the pale.’ NC leaders trade jabs after Cooper won’t answer more questions

NC Gov. Roy Cooper holds a press conference at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh on March 30, 2017.
NC Gov. Roy Cooper holds a press conference at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh on March 30, 2017. cseward@newsobserver.com

Gov. Roy Cooper's administration refused to answer additional questions from legislators about a $57.8 million mitigation fund for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, saying the questions “appear to be political in nature, as well as moot.”

Cooper chief of staff Kristi Jones was responding Monday to a Friday letter from Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon and House Rules Chairman David Lewis in which they reiterated questions that went unanswered in a previous letter from Jones and posed new questions about how the agreement between the Cooper administration and the pipeline builders was negotiated.

Jones pointed to the legislature’s recent action to redirect the $57.8 million in the fund to school districts along the pipeline route. “Since you have already decided where this money should go, your new questions appear to be political in nature, as well as moot, and as such our office lets the previous letter stand as its answer,” Jones wrote on Monday.

“It is shameful, but unsurprising, that you have turned a fund that provided such promise for North Carolina into political theater. North Carolina faces many challenges that legislators have failed to address that deserve the energy and focus you have instead devoted to this partisan charade.”

The lawmakers’ unanswered questions primarily involve the negotiations that led to the agreement. They want to know if Cooper was personally involved, when the negotiations took place and if any other topics came up. They’re also asking the Cooper administration to explain why he believes the rerouting of funds to schools would put the pipeline fund in jeopardy, and why he’d suggested funneling the money through two grant programs that are the subject of lawsuits involving gubernatorial appointments.

“Gov. Cooper’s refusal to answer simple questions surrounding the $57.8 million he obtained from the energy companies building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline just before granting them a key permit to advance it is deeply disturbing and frankly unacceptable,” Rabon and Lewis said in a joint statement Tuesday. “And his staffer’s disrespect and dismissal of North Carolinians’ legitimate ethical concerns over the appearance of pay-to-play as ‘political theater’ is beyond the pale.”

“His administration is shaping up to be one of the least transparent and most secretive that we can remember, and we can’t help but wonder: what is Roy Cooper hiding?” Rabon and Lewis added.

It’s unclear what legislators might do next, but legislative committees have subpoena powers under the state's constitution.

Rabon and Lewis said legislators will “exercise every tool at our disposal to get to the bottom of this,” and their news release notes that legislative committees have the power to subpoena people to testify and provide public and private records.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter