Senate Won’t Confirm Cooper’s Pick To Lead Environmental Agency

By John Trump
Carolina Journal News Service

RALEIGH — North Carolina relies on a single pipeline for its natural gas, making it uniquely vulnerable to disruptions, shortages, and even more nefarious problems.

“North Carolina’s future, not to mention lights, heat, and air conditioning in millions of homes, is at risk because of the state’s full reliance on a single natural gas pipeline,” Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico.

In an unprecedented move, N.C. Senate leaders say they won’t confirm Dionne Delli-Gatti, Gov. Roy Cooper’s pick to lead the Department of Environmental Quality because she admitted to having only “a little bit of knowledge” about a proposed second natural gas pipeline and failed to articulate the administration’s natural gas strategy.

Senators have asked Cooper to withdraw Delli-Gatti’s nomination. Delli-Gatti testified before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Energy, and the Environment last month. She doesn’t have the votes for confirmation, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said Wednesday, June 2.

Senators, in a news release, recounted the confirmation hearing like this: “When asked, ‘Do you know what the governor’s position is on the expansion of natural gas in North Carolina?’ she answered, ‘No I do not.’”

The Senate has confirmed all 15 of Cooper’s previous nominees.

“This is new territory,” Berger said Wednesday.

Delli-Gatti has led the agency this spring, replacing Michael Regan, who President Biden chose to run the Environmental Protection Agency. North Carolina relies on the Colonial pipeline for gas and the Transcontinental Gas pipeline — Transco —for natural gas.

Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, who serves on the energy committee, made the motion to reject Delli-Gatti.

“This isn’t even a matter of policy differences,” Newton said in a statement. “Ms. Delli-Gatti was unable to articulate any strategy whatsoever surrounding North Carolina’s ‘No. 1 vulnerability,’ which is our reliance on a single pipeline for all of our natural gas. That is disqualifying.”

Delli-Gatti also failed to expound on the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline-Southgate project, saying, according to Senate leaders, that she had only “a little bit of knowledge on it, and I have some briefing materials on it.”

Two days after she provided that answer, senators say the agency she was nominated to lead rejected a crucial water quality permit, potentially killing that project.

The plan, in the works for years, would deliver additional natural gas to North Carolina from Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania. Dominion Energy intends to rely on the MVP-Southgate supply once demand exceeds what provider Transco can provide. The pipeline would also add redundancy to North Carolina’s energy infrastructure should the Transco supply be disrupted, as the liquid fuel Colonial Pipeline was earlier this month. That left pumps empty and many North Carolinians stranded at home, in some cases for several days. News of the problem with the Colonial Pipeline panicked some, who hoarded existing supplies and exacerbated the problem.

A third of the energy used in North Carolina is generated through natural gas, Newton said in the news conference. It’s an urgent problem that could become a crisis in a matter of minutes, Berger said.

Leaders in the energy industry and experts testified May 18 during a meeting of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Energy, and Environment.

“When you depend on one source, as we’ve seen in the last few days, you run that risk, and the risk is enhanced because of cybersecurity attacks such as we’ve had now,” said Edward Finley, who was appointed as chair of the N.C. Utilities Commission under former Democratic governors Mike Easley and Bev Perdue.

“A diverse fuel mix is important to ensure reliability for our customers and for the state here in North Carolina, and also to ensure that we have backup fuel,” said Nelson Peeler, senior vice president at Duke Energy.

Fuel from the natural gas pipeline is delivered directly to an electric generator, the news release says. “It’s not stored anywhere. We’d see immediate disruption not just to our electric generation, but also our local distribution companies providing gas for industrial purposes or for homes. It would be an immediate disruption if that pipeline were disrupted.”

Further, senators say, the Transco pipeline is “fully subscribed,” meaning that every unit of gas traveling through the pipeline is bought and paid for. “There is no room for growth, even as North Carolina’s population and manufacturing base are expected to expand.”

Representatives from Dominion Energy, which supplies natural gas in the state, warned that its supply from Transco will no longer satisfy peak demand as soon as next year.

“Manufacturers rely on a stable supply and price of natural gas, and they will move to other states if they don’t have it. North Carolina is at a crisis stage with respect to energy production,” the senators say.

Cooper’s spokesman, Ford Porter, told The News & Observer that “Secretary Delli Gatti is eminently qualified to run DEQ. .. This has nothing to do with pipelines and Republican excuses for voting her down are a red herring to prevent her from protecting clean air and water and holding utilities accountable while they negotiate a secret energy bill.”

Cooper reiterated those talking points during a COVID-19 news conference Wednesday afternoon. He said he would hope the Senate doesn’t hold a vote Thursday.

“That Ms. Delli-Gatti had only cursory knowledge of the single most important infrastructure project in North Carolina, and one her own agency is tasked with reviewing, is disqualifying,” Newton said.