Republicans in Washington are defending one of the most corrupt administrations in US history. In a plea deal, the former chair of the North Carolina Republican Party pled guilty to lying to the FBI in exchange for his continued cooperation. The Republican President Pro-tem of the North Carolina Senate is using campaign funds to buy a $300,000 house in Raleigh. The Republican Speaker of the North Carolina House took jobs from companies that had business before the legislature. He also landed a sweetheart land deal that only worked with a waiver from the Department of Environmental Quality. And according to Real Clear Politics, the Democratic Governor has an approval rating that’s positive by fourteen points.
In this environment, Republicans are desperate for a Democratic scandal. They’ve settled on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. They’ve been pushing it for more than a year. They swear there’s something corrupt but they can’t say what.
Now, they’ve got an “independent investigation” claiming that Cooper “improperly used the authority and influence of his office” but not for his own personal benefit. They don’t elaborate on who did benefit and they’re vague on what was improper. The main complaint is that Cooper set up an economic development and environmental mitigation fund overseen by the executive branch instead of the legislative branch and that the pipeline companies were forced to pay for the fund in order to get a permit.
The brunt of the argument seems to be that the Cooper administration bullied the energy companies who own the pipeline despite the companies denying any strong-arm tactics from the Governor’s administration. Republicans are outraged that the state of North Carolina would force private industries to pay into a fund to offset the cost future environmental impacts such as spills. In their world, taxpayers should be picking up the cost of industries’ mistakes, not the companies themselves.
The biggest problem with the so-called scandal is that nobody benefitted and nobody was harmed. The investigators admit that Cooper did not benefit personally and they could cite no crimes. The people who were harmed most were the Republicans in the legislature. They believed they should have control over the mitigation fund. In fact, they took it and used it. If it was that bad, they should have returned the money to Duke Power, right?
But Duke Energy and ACP deny that they were forced to make any shady payments. The mitigation agreement here was similar to ones used in Virginia and West Virginia. They say the mitigation agreements were negotiated in “good faith and independent of any regulatory permitting processes.”
The heart of the matter may be the requirement that Duke Energy increase its use of renewable energy to offset damage done by the carbon output of natural gas. That part of the agreement was struck to satisfy environmentalists opposed to the pipeline. Republicans who deny the negative effects of climate change have a visceral and irrational knee-jerk reaction to any increase in renewable energy output. Forcing Duke Energy to add more renewables to its portfolio probably sent Republicans like Harry Brown over the edge.
Regardless, the companies involved with the pipeline deny that they were coerced or harmed by the permitting process. The investigators admit that nobody benefited personally from the agreement. Yet Republicans insist there was a scandal even though they can list no victims and they can find no beneficiaries.
The episode looks more like an attempt to cast shade on a popular and successful governor and distract from the misdeeds of Republicans leaders in the legislature and the corrupt GOP administration in the White House. It’s an election year. Nothing more, nothing less.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >