Governor’s nominee to lead state agency fumbles confirmation hearing

Issue: Only one pipeline for natural gas

North Carolina is unique in its reliance on a single pipeline for natural gas supplies. Shown is the current infrastructure for natural gas pipelines in the eastern U.S.

Office of State Sen. Phil Berger

Norman Sanderson

RALEIGH – If Gov. Cooper doesn’t withdraw his nominee to lead the Department of Environmental Quality, the North Carolina Senate will vote to reject her – the first Cooper nominee to receive an unfavorable Senate confirmation vote. All fifteen of Cooper’s previous nominees have been confirmed.

The nominee, Dionne Delli-Gatti, got into trouble at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Energy, and the Environment.  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.”

Senate Republicans said this week they cannot confirm the nominee because of concerns surrounding her ability to address what North Carolina energy generators described as the state’s “number one vulnerability” — reliance on a single pipeline for North Carolina’s entire supply of natural gas.

Sen. Norm Sanderson (R-Pamlico) said: “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. Ms. Delli-Gatti could not articulate the Cooper Administration’s natural gas strategy, which she would presumably lead or at least be heavily involved in, nor was she informed about a major pipeline that her own agency rejected 48 hours later. Given the importance of this issue, that’s disqualifying.”

Why is Natural Gas Important?

Natural gas is used to generate roughly one-third of North Carolina’s electricity. Nearly 90 percent of the state’s households use either electricity or natural gas for heat. Almost all homes use electricity for air conditioning.

Unlike other states, all of North Carolina’s natural gas comes from a single pipeline, called the Transco pipeline.

At a recent Senate hearing, North Carolina energy experts warned that a disruption in the Transco pipeline would cause “immediate” impacts: “That’s because the fuel from the natural gas pipeline is delivered directly to an electric generator. 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.”

A further threat to North Carolina’s energy future is the reality that the Transco pipeline is “fully subscribed,” which means every unit of gas traveling through the pipeline has already been purchased. There is no room for growth, even as North Carolina’s population and manufacturing base are expected to expand.

At the same Senate hearing, Dominion Energy warned that their 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.

During her confirmation hearing, Ms. Delli-Gatti was also asked about the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline-Southgate project. The plan has been in the works for years and it would deliver additional natural gas to North Carolina from the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania. Dominion Energy intends to rely upon the MVP-Southgate supply once demand exceeds what Transco can provide. The pipeline would also add redundancy to North Carolina’s energy infrastructure should the Transco supply be disrupted – similar to situation experienced by Colonial Pipeline earlier this month for distribution of gasoline.  as the liquid fuel Colonial Pipeline was earlier this month.

Ms. Delli-Gatti admitted to the senators that she has only “a little bit of knowledge on it, and I have some briefing materials on it.”

Two days after she provided that answer, the agency she is nominated to lead rejected a crucial permit, potentially killing the project.

What Happens Next

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) informed Gov. Roy Cooper this week that Ms. Delli-Gatti would not have the votes sufficient for confirmation. Gov. Cooper or Ms. Delli-Gatti can choose to withdraw from the nomination process, which would eliminate the need for a full Senate vote. In either event — a withdrawal or a formal rejection via a floor vote — Gov. Cooper would identify a new nominee and propose him or her to the Senate for confirmation. Ms. Delli-Gatti may no longer serve as acting secretary of the agency once she withdraws or the Senate formally rejects her nomination.