Politics & Government

Groundwork set for Gov. Cooper’s staff to appear at gas pipeline public hearing

Gov. Roy Cooper’s office said members of his staff will answer questions about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline permit at a public hearing. But they won’t meet privately with investigators the Republican legislature has hired to dig into any connection between the permit and an environmental mitigation fund.

Cooper’s office released letters Friday afternoon between his office and legislative Republicans. The correspondence sets the stage for a potential public hearing for the week of Nov. 4, when staff in the Democratic governor’s office will answer questions about the pipeline permit granted in early 2018.

Republican lawmakers hired investigators last year to look into a possible connection between the pipeline’s North Carolina permit and an environmental mitigation fund Cooper set up. Republicans claimed the energy consortium developing the pipeline was pushed into paying $57.8 million into the fund in exchange for the permit.

Cooper has denied the allegation.

Last year, the legislature gave the money to school districts the pipeline would run through.

Lawsuits have stalled the 600-mile natural gas pipeline designed to run from West Virginia to North Carolina.

A letter to Cooper dated Friday from Sen. Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican, and Rep. Dean Arp, a Monroe Republican, outline three options for Cooper: allow all of his staff to speak to investigators; select employees to talk to a legislative subcommittee on the pipeline; or not allow anyone to speak.

Their letter said investigators have nearly completed their interviews.

“The independent investigators have not yet spoken with you or your office despite multiple calls and voicemails,” they wrote.

Cooper’s chief of staff, Kristi Jones, replied in a letter to Republicans that the investigation is “a politically motivated sham,” but that staff would answer questions at a public hearing.

“Our office notified you at the time you retained this Republican firm to go on a fishing expedition throughout the Administration that we would not participate in these closed-door interrogation sessions,” she wrote.

Members of Cooper’s staff will answer questions in public, Jones wrote. “[As] we have repeatedly told you, if you are intent on pursuing these hearings on a fake controversy, the Governor’s staff will answer questions at a public hearing in order to put this fully and finally to rest once and for all.”

Republicans said in their letter they anticipated a public hearing for the week of Nov. 4.

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Lynn Bonner has worked at The News & Observer since 1994, and has written about the state legislature and politics since 1999. Contact her at lbonner@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4821.