A key Republican state lawmaker is calling for a formal legislative investigation into a roughly $58 million deal between Gov. Roy Cooper’s office and the utility companies behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which if built would pass through eight Eastern North Carolina counties.
Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, says he wants the state legislature’s chief governmental oversight committee to dig deeper into the January agreement, which establishes a $57.8 million fund for environmental and economic development projects in the counties along the pipeline’s route.
"Given the Cooper administration has spent weeks dodging simple questions and refusing to comply with the Public Records Act, I am asking Sen. Berger and Speaker Moore to include Gov. Cooper’s pipeline scandal as an agenda item at the next meeting of the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations,” Rabon stated in a press release on Wednesday.
Rabon's request comes soon after a WRAL reported Gov. Cooper's attorney altered the agreement's wording, giving the Cooper administration control over how the fund's dollars are disbursed. This revelation comes after repeated accusations from Republican state lawmakers that the agreement created a "slush fund." Republicans have also raised suspicions over the timing of the deal, which was signed one day before the state granted the companies behind the natural gas pipeline a necessary water quality permit.
Gov. Cooper's office has denied the allegations, stating that the fund was meant to cover environmental costs related to the pipeline's construction and support economic development projects in the affected communities.
"It was intended that decisions about the distribution of the fund would be made by experts through an open and transparent application process for government entities and qualified non-profits," Ford Porter, Cooper's spokesperson, stated in a press release.
Cooper's office released another statement after Rabon's calls for an investigation into the agreement, calling it a "partisan power grab."
No date has been set for a possible oversight hearing into the deal.