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Fight still rages over natural gas pipeline


Rocky Mount Telegram

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

ROCKY MOUNT — The fight over a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline through Nash County has become partisan political fodder.

Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly are accusing Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, of accepting money for a slush fund in exchange for approving the Atlantic Coast Pipeline while Cooper's administration claims the whole supposed controversy is just GOP posturing.

Builders including Duke Energy are preparing to begin construction of the 600-mile route from West Virginia to Lumberton soon thanks to key federal and state regulatory approvals.

N.C. Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, has called for a legislative oversight hearing into the $58 million agreement between the Cooper administration and the energy companies building the pipeline.

Calling for a hearing is a legislative stunt, said Kristi Jones, Cooper's chief of staff.

“Our goal is to provide access to natural gas to help the economy while protecting the environment in counties impacted by the pipeline, and it is unfortunate that legislators chose to raid a fund intended to do just that,” Jones said. “Sacrificing jobs in order to manufacture a partisan power grab is a new low, and legislators will have to answer to the people of eastern North Carolina. We look forward to discussing this further.”

Cooper announced the fund simultaneous to the state permit approval of the pipeline. The fund was meant to mitigate the pipeline’s environmental impacts and help affected counties with economic growth, but the legislature moved to use the money for schools.

The pipeline will mean a growing economy, thousands of new jobs and lower energy costs for consumers, Duke Energy spokeswoman Tammie McGee said.

“The new natural gas infrastructure will help the region attract manufacturers and other new industries and accelerate the transition from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas and support new investments in renewables, resulting in cleaner air and lower emissions in communities across the state,” McGee said.

But some environmentalists disagree.

A permit for a compressor station in Northampton County should not have been approved, said Hope Taylor with Clean Water for NC, a environmental advocacy group.

“With a population around the compressor station that’s nearly 80 percent African-American and having had a remarkably large public response for the project in a rural area, it’s clear that our state’s Environmental Equity Policy doesn’t amount to a hill of beans,” Taylor said. “Every permit issued for this pipeline spreads the air of injustice for poor residents and communities of color.”

Tony Burnett, president of the Northampton County branch of the NAACP, said he's disappointed the pipeline is moving forward despite serious concerns that have been raised.

“We in the NAACP stand for what we believe in and we stand for those who cannot stand for themselves,” Burnett said. “The ACP imposes a tax on all of us, but especially the poorest, of which there are many in Northampton County, who will be facing further steep electric rate hikes in coming years to pay for the ACP, which we don’t even need.”