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MEMO: DEQ Interview Transcripts Refute Republican Conspiracy Theories

Raleigh

Yesterday, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) released four signed statements and six transcripts in full of interviews between employees and “investigators” hired by the legislature to look into the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and permitting process.

INTERVIEWS REFUTE REPUBLICAN CONSPIRACY THEORIES

Over the course of hours of questioning, DEQ staff stated more than ten times that they were notdirected by the Governor’s Office or anyone else to slow down or speed up the timing of the permit. “Investigators” ask the same question in many different ways, but the DEQ employees repeatedly say that nothing unusual happened with the permitting process.

As the Cooper Administration has said, the Governor’s office was not involved with decisions surrounding ACP permit applications, including the 401 water quality permit. The permitting process was handled by experts at DEQ who evaluated the application on its merits.

As it did in Virginia and West Virginia, the ACP agreed to create a fund in North Carolina to benefit the affected areas. That fund would have gone to economic development and environmental mitigation in the pipeline counties, but legislative Republicans raided that fund for political reasons.

COOPER ADMININSTRATION WILL CONTINUE TO ANSWER QUESTIONS

In addition to releasing tens of thousands of pages of documents and answering any and all questions on the matter, the Governor’s office has offered to send three high-ranking senior staff members to answer more questions this coming Friday.

EXCERPTS

The interviews can be found here and the statements can be found here. Here are some key excerpts from the transcripts:

Linda Culpepper, Director of the Division of Water Resources, said she was unaware of the fact a mitigation fund even existed when she signed the 401 water quality permit.

KEVIN GREENE (“investigator”): Were you aware of the mitigation fund that was being negotiated outside of DEQ, the $57.8 million? Were you aware of that at the time of the permit certification?

LINDA CULPEPPER (DEQ): I was not aware of that fund at the time I signed this permit. I found out about it through the media afterwards.

Karen Higgins, 401 & Buffer Permitting Branch Supervisor, stated that there was nothing different about permitting for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline as opposed to any other project the department has worked on.

KEVIN GREENE (“investigator”): During the 401 processing, was there anything out of the norm of how you proceeded with the permitting process, how you would normally proceed with the process?

KAREN HIGGINS (DEQ): There was nothing out of the norm.

Jay Zimmerman, former director for the Division of Water Resources, attested to the fact that the Governor’s office was not involved in the permitting process.

KEVIN GREENE (“investigator”): Did you ever have any contact with the governor’s office or never met with the governor, any of his staff—

JAY ZIMMERMAN (DEQ): As director, not that I did. I was never called to the governor’s office or never met with the governor, any of his staff…specifically…

GREENE: Okay. Was it ever relayed down to you that there was – the governor was involved in the permitting process?

ZIMMERMAN: No, that was not…communicated to me.

THOMAS BEERS (“investigator”): This is the last question. Did anyone at any time above you, either Sheila Holman or anyone above, give you direction as to make additional information requests that you didn’t agree with?

ZIMMERMAN: No.

Brian Wrenn, who works for the Division of Water Quality and was the hearing officer, twice indicated that they did not have direction from anyone outside the normal chain of command. 

THOMAS BEERS (“investigator”): You notice on the 19th DEQ staff begins process of making 401. That e-mail went out a day before on the 18th, did you recall any conversations with anyone above we need to get this out per the request of the governor’s office?           

BRIAN WRENN (DEQ): Again, nobody—we didn’t have any directives from anybody as far schedule…

BEERS: It looks like there was…some kind of deadline imposed on somebody at your office to get this out.

WRENN: I don’t recall anybody providing a deadline to us regarding this. This was, again, something we have been working on… We’ve been working to get the additional information for quite a while. We finally got it. We wanted to get it out the door. We were working towards that.

 

Bridget Munger who served as Public Information Officer at DEQ also stated that the permit process was not dragged or slowed down by anything. 

KEVIN GREENE (“investigator”): Did anyone ever express any concerns that to you, within the department or outside the department, that the permitting process was dragging or being slowed? Or that there were barriers being created?

BRIDGET MUNGER (DEQ): No. No.

Jennifer Burdette, former 401 and Buffer Coordinator for DEQ, rebutted a key Republican conspiracy theory on the pipeline that a draft denial letter for the permit was issued to bully the project applicants.

KEVIN GREENE (“investigator”): Can you tell us a little bit about why and when [the draft denial letter] was prepared?

JENNIFER BURDETTE (DEQ): So the hearing officer’s report is prepare and in order to not – the decision is ultimately the division director’s decision. And as support for that, and I believe Karen Higgins wrote the draft denial, we provide both a denial and an approval for the division director to make their decision based on reviewing the hearing officer’s report as to whether they chose to.

GREENE: Is that a normal practice?

BURDETTE: It is with individual projects that have a public hearing and a hearing officer’s report.

Brian Wrenn, hearing officer, confirmed that information.

WRENN: Typically you have a hearing officer report and you have a certification and then you have a denial letter… It is procedural we have been beat up in the past for – if we just bring a permit to be signed to the table people have said that’s pre-decisional, so we’ve started bringing both so that we can say we considered both options.

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