Watchdog Again Calls for Investigation of House Speaker Tim Moore for Seeking Preferential Treatment from State Agency
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 14, 2019
Contact: Bryan Dewan, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (“CfA”), a nonprofit watchdog group focused on public accountability, again called on North Carolina officials to investigate whether Tim Moore, Speaker of the North Carolina General Assembly, improperly used his position to seek preferential treatment from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (“DEQ”) regarding a property owned by his company, Southeast Land Holdings, LLC (“Southeast”). Additionally, CfA called for an investigation into whether DEQ officials acted appropriately when they issued a Conditional No Further Action (“NFA”) letter to Speaker Moore’s company in September 2016.
CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said, “New documents obtained by Campaign for Accountability reveal that one of Speaker Moore’s legislative aides inquired with DEQ officials about Speaker Moore’s company after it apparently violated several environmental regulations. The documents indicate that yet again Speaker Moore appears to have attempted to use his official position to enrich himself. North Carolina officials should immediately investigate whether Speaker Moore directed his aide, a former DEQ official, to contact the agency on his behalf.”
Speaker Moore was the vice president and part owner of Southeast Land Holdings, LLC. In 2013, Southeast purchased a former Townsend poultry plant in Siler City, North Carolina. The property contained two underground storage tanks (UST) that were used to hold gasoline and diesel fuel and are subject to DEQ regulations.
CfA’s March 2018 Complaint
Following its purchase of the property, Southeast failed to properly close and remove the USTs in a timely manner. On March 5, 2018, CfA called on the North Carolina State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement (“Board”) to investigate whether Speaker Moore improperly intervened and persuaded DEQ not to engage in an enforcement action against Southeast for failing to remove the USTs.
After conducting an investigation, on December 28, 2018, the Board dismissed CfA’s complaint, concluding that DEQ did not provide preferential treatment to Speaker Moore’s company. The Board also told CfA that after Speaker Moore informed DEQ, on May 12, 2015, that Southeast had removed oil from the USTs, “the tenor of the conversation changed.”
Emails obtained by CfA, however, indicate this is inaccurate. As CfA explained previously, the DEQ official supervising Speaker Moore’s property was aware that Southeast had removed the oil from the USTs five days earlier, on May 7, 2015. At that time, the official explained to Speaker Moore that removing the oil from the tanks was not an acceptable solution to delay enforcement. Inexplicably, DEQ reversed itself and granted Speaker Moore an extension to remove the USTs from the ground.
New documents released by DEQ on November 29, 2018, reveal that Mitch Gillespie, a Senior Policy Advisor for Speaker Moore and former Assistant Secretary at DEQ, intervened with DEQ officials regarding Speaker Moore’s property.
The documents show that when Southeast removed the USTs in August 2015, they determined the USTs had further polluted the property. Southeast, though, failed to follow DEQ procedures to properly clean up the site. Speaker Moore’s company failed to submit soil samples and two different reports that are required under DEQ regulations. Only when DEQ officials were investigating how to respond to Mr. Gillespie’s inquiry in March 2016 did they discover Southeast not only had failed to file the reports, but also had failed to respond to numerous DEQ inquiries regarding the matter.
The documents also cast doubt on the Board’s claim that DEQ officials handled Speaker Moore’s property in a neutral manner. According to one email written by a DEQ employee, the agency fast tracked the cleanup process because of “legislative inquiries.” North Carolina law prohibits legislators from knowingly using their “public position in an official action or legislative action” that will result in a financial benefit to themselves or any business with which they are associated.
Additionally, Southeast appears to have violated state environmental laws by failing to provide DEQ with soil samples and follow up reports after they removed the USTs in August 2015. Notably, DEQ does not appear to have issued any civil penalties to Southeast despite the company’s repeated environmental violations.
Mr. Stevens continued, “Public confidence in government is undermined when elected representatives abuse their positions for their own personal financial benefit. If Speaker Moore used his position in the General Assembly to avoid the regulations and penalties to which other North Carolina landowners are subject, he must be held accountable.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.