GOP swings and misses with pipeline attacks on Cooper

GOP swings and misses with pipeline attacks on Cooper

- in Top Story, Weekly Briefing

Back in the early 1990’s, the late and sorely missed Bob Hensley – a talented, feisty and frequently funny trial lawyer and Democratic state representative from Wake County – was engaged in a tense debate on the House floor with a Republican adversary when things suddenly turned personal.

Having been cornered by Hensley’s formidable skills at debate, the GOP lawmaker lashed out and accused Hensley of being untruthful in some of his claims about the bill in question.

To which, Hensley replied without missing a beat, “Representative, being accused of dishonesty by you is a little like being accused by Ross Perot [the famously homely and buzz-coiffed Texas oil billionaire and then-well known independent presidential candidate] of having a bad haircut.”

A quarter century later, it would be interesting to hear what Hensley might have to say about the spectacle of the party of Donald Trump attempting to assail North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper for, of all things, questionable actions with respect to regulation of a giant polluter.

Trump, of course, has, with the enthusiastic backing of state-level politicians like state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, spent the last three years doing his worst to undermine every environmental rule and regulation in sight.

In Trumpland no lie about the environment or giveaway to a polluting industry is too blatant or outrageous. Trump doesn’t just relax regulations on the environment, he hires professional polluters to head the agencies charged with environmental oversight and then unleashes them to aggressively worsen environmental devastation.

All of which serves to make it just a little bit difficult to take the much ballyhooed Republican investigation into Cooper’s clumsy handling of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline controversy terribly seriously.

For nearly two years now, having repeatedly found themselves politically outmaneuvered by (and dramatically less popular than) the Governor, Republican lawmakers at the General Assembly have been advancing all manner of frenzied claims and conspiracy theories about the pipeline and the supposed treachery of the Cooper administration in approving it. These include claims that:

  • the approval of environmental permits for the pipeline were driven by politics and self-dealing rather than the findings of Department of Environmental Quality regulators;
  • the “mitigation fund” to which the pipeline owners agreed to contribute in order to address its negative environmental and economic impacts was really just a “slush fund” for Cooper to oversee;
  • Cooper was improperly infringing on legislative authority by attempting to establish and administer the mitigation fund; and
  • Cooper and his family stood to personally profit from the pipeline and related regulation of a solar energy farm.

Unfortunately for the GOP, despite some awkward and awkwardly timed moves by the administration on the matter, every effort to advance these theories keeps running into a dead end. The latest such occurrence took place last week when a legislative hearing on the matter failed to unearth any new or damning findings.

As noted above, the grand irony in all of this is that if the chief executive in question here was President Trump, accusations of this kind would not be treated as potential transgressions, but rather as standard operating procedure and even bragging points for the “world’s greatest deal-maker.”

All that said, it should be pointed out that there are many powerful reasons to be deeply concerned about and oppose the pipeline. As advocates have pointed out repeatedly, the pipeline will:

  • further threaten endangered species;
  • dramatically alter vital wetlands, forests and rivers;
  • endanger drinking water sources;
  • undermine property rights of numerous individuals who will see their lands taken or impacted;
  • threaten Native American historical sites;
  • discriminate against low-income people and people of color, who will be the most directly impacted by its construction;
  • enrich giant corporate polluters; and
  • bring precious little economic benefit to the region of the state it will traverse.

Perhaps most importantly, the pipeline represents precisely the wrong kind of investment for a state and nation that should be moving aggressively to curb fossil fuel consumption and the planet-threatening emissions it generates.

Given this backdrop, it’s understandable that many caring and thinking people are deeply concerned about the pipeline and frustrated that Cooper didn’t oppose it aggressively.

Much as he did on the partial repeal of the infamous HB2 “bathroom bill,” however, Cooper attempted to find a middle ground – a place from which he could at least speak to longer-term goals for the environment and equitable economic development, without dangling a red cape in front of hard right, pro-fossil fuel proponents. It was a questionable political decision, but it did not amount to kind of wrongdoing GOP critics have claimed.

The bottom line: At last week’s hearing the Governor’s advisor Ken Eudy admitted that the administration was less than perfect in its handling of the pipeline matter. This would certainly seem to be a fair assessment – especially when it comes to the decision not to oppose the pipeline altogether.

But it’s also increasingly clear that, absent the emergence of some smoking gun they’ve failed to produce in nearly two years of digging, GOP claims of corruption and malfeasance on the matter come up woefully short.