After months of being asked by people on all sides of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline issue to show leadership, Governor Roy Cooper has taken a stance.   A stance that sounds suspiciously like OK, then “help” me help you, wink-wink.

Carolina Journal has the story. They have been updating it all afternoon for reasons that will become evident. From the initial report:

The state Department of Environmental Quality issued a vital water permit Friday advancing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, but environmentalists immediately criticized Gov. Roy Cooper for signing off on the approval.

After months of foot-dragging, why did the governor sign off? The first update:

The agreement between DEQ and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline operators includes a $57.8 million payment by the companies to an “Escrow Account” chosen by the governor. The Memorandum of Understanding between the parties says the money will be used to mitigate environmental impacts of the pipeline; economic development projects in the affected counties; and renewable energy projects in the affected counties. This fund may operate outside normal legislative budgeting functions.

This sounds like the kind of slush-fund shenanigans engaged in by governors past. Money (a) to secure a beneficial state action (b) placed into an account controlled by the governor (c) to be disbursed at the governor’s discretion to cronies (d) outside the legislative budgeting process?

This is not a good look. It’s the kind of stuff I wrote about in my Carolina Cronyism report (see pp. 14–16, citing previous Carolina Journal exposés).

The second update includes a statement from my colleague Joe Coletti, who used to be the program budget analyst at the state Office of State Budget Management:

“The $57.8 million payment from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Dominion Power, and Duke Energy is clearly the quid for the Department of Environmental Quality’s quo of approving water permits for the pipeline. The dictionary defines something like this as bribery or extortion. The payment was made under threat to move the project forward.

“The structure of the deal seems designed to skirt the constitutional requirement for the General Assembly to approve the raising and spending of funds. An escrow account approved by the governor with expenditures tied to the governor’s wishes is surely not in keeping with the spirit of the law or the constitution.”

Stay tuned.