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North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper just approved a crucial permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Then he hired one of the pipeline’s top lobbyists as his new Legislative Director.


The revolving door in North Carolina is spinning wildly these days – at least between the world of fracked gas pipeline lobbying and the administration of the state’s Democratic Governor, Roy Cooper.

On January 30, Cooper announced that Lee Lilley would become his new Legislative Director. Lilley has been a top lobbyist for the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). He worked for the powerhouse lobbying firm McGuireWoods, which was hired by Dominion Energy to push for the pipeline. Dominion is the driving force behind the ACP, with North Carolina’s Duke Energy also a major stakeholder.

Cooper’s appointment of Lilley came just four days after the governor approved the Clean Water Act certification for the nearly 200-mile North Carolina portion of the 600-mile pipeline, which will also run through West Virginia and Virginia. The certification permits the pipeline to cross hundreds of waterways in the state.

Lilley’s appointment reflects a big problem: the revolving door between corporate lobbyists – in this case, oil and gas industry lobbyists – and political administrations. This includes the administrations of Democrats like Cooper – many who waver on, or outright support, the fracking industry and the expanded use of natural gas fossil fuels.

Lee Lilley, Pipeline Lobbyist

Lilley’s move into the Cooper administration completes his revolving door journey full circle – from politics to corporate lobbying and back to politics.

He started out as a staffer in the US House of Representatives, where he served as legislative assistant and director for Rep. George Butterfield from January 2007 to May 2012. Butterfield is a North Carolina Democrat who serves on the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

Immediately after working with Butterfield, Lilley became a lobbyist for McGuireWoods, joining the firm in May 2012 until his January 2018 appointment in the Cooper administration. A partner of McGuireWoods is Richard Cullen, the powerful brother-in-law of Dominion CEO Tom Farrell.

At McGuireWoods, Lilley was part of lobbying teams that were paid hundreds of thousands to lobby for the fossil fuel industry, including for the America’s Natural Gas Alliance, American Petroleum Institute, Duke Energy, and ExxonMobil.

But one of Lilley’s biggest customers was Dominion, who shelled out $690,000 between 2012 and 2017 to lobbying teams that he was part of. A chunk of this lobbying involved Lilley meetings in the Senate and House – leveraging his connections from his days with Butterfield – on the issue of “Proposed Interstate Natural Gas Pipeline approval” – AKA, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The battle over the ACP has been high-pitched in North Carolina, and it’s unsettling – to say the least – that Governor Cooper would bring in one of the pipeline’s top lobbyists just days after issuing a crucial permit.

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Pay-to-Play Suspicions

One of Lilley’s first moves in his new job was to defend a deal that the Gov. Cooper made with the ACP to create a $57.8 million environmental mitigation fund that the administration would oversee. The deal was announced the same day as Cooper granted the crucial water permit to the ACP, raising suspicions of a pay-to-play agreement, which the Cooper administration has adamantly denied.

As reported:

    The fund has come under scrutiny amid questions over who would control the fund, what it would be used for and whether such a fund is allowed under state law. A copy of a memo drafted for lawmakers by the non-partisan staff at the North Carolina General Assembly found such a fund was unprecedented in state history. The memo concluded that staff from Cooper’s office had yet to answer many questions about the project other than to say the fund would be administered by a committee whose makeup had yet to be announced.

Power Behind the Pipeline

As we showed in our June 2017 report, the power behind the ACP – and namely, the power of Dominion and Duke in Virginia and North Carolina – is significant. Pipeline opponents had hoped that Gov. Cooper might halt the ACP in his state, but those hopes are dwindling.

Like a host of other Democratic governors – from Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolfe to Colorado’s John Hickenlooper to California’s Jerry Brown – Cooper appears to be cozy with the fossil fuel industry, and bringing a fossil fuel lobbyist into a top position in his administration only confirms this.