Bowing to opponents of Titan America and an influential political watchdog, Gov. Bev Perdue called this week for an investigation into whether there was any wrongdoing involved in the state’s decision to issue the company a draft air permit and a pass on an environmental review.
The call comes just days after a Raleigh-based political watchdog, Joe Sinsheimer, prodded the governor to investigate whether there was any “undue political pressure” involved in Titan’s permitting process to build a plant in New Hanover County.
Sinheimer’s highly publicized remarks are reported to have flooded the governor’s office with calls from Titan opponents voicing similar concerns.
Perdue acknowledged them recently by asking Attorney General Roy Cooper and the State Bureau of Investigation to probe the matter.
“I have asked the attorney general’s office, the SBI, to see if there was any kind of—I don’t know the word, I’m not a lawyer—if there was anything that wasn’t aboveboard in the decision making, and I believe they will,” Perdue was quoted as saying in the Washington Daily News on Saturday.
Perdue’s decision is likely a reflection on the spate of recent corruption scandals involving top state officials, specifically former Gov. Mike Easley and his alleged campaign finance violations.
In his message to the governor, Sinsheimer said that in order to restore confidence in the public’s perception of state government, a 90-day freeze needed to be placed on Titan’s permitting process.
He told the governor to focus a probe on the behaviors of officials within the Easley administration, specifically its actions that exempted Titan from falling under the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA).
SEPA states that any project receiving public money and/or public land with the potential for environmental impacts would trigger an environmental review, during which time all permits would be delayed.
Titan was granted a $4.2 million incentive package by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners in 2008.
Perdue has not halted the issuance of any permits.
These developments come at a sensitive time for people on both sides of this issue, as the North Carolina Division of Air Quality weighs on issuing Titan an air permit.
Bob Odom, general manager of Carolinas Cement, Titan’s parent company, issued a statement Tuesday, Nov. 24, in response to Perdue’s remarks.
“I can say with 100 percent certainty that the state’s handling of the air permitting process for Titan America’s proposed cement plant in Castle Hayne has been comprehensive, transparent and exhaustive in its attention to detail,” he said. “The State of North Carolina spent 18 months processing the application with studies and input from numerous groups before issuing a draft air permit. It may well be the most carefully examined permit application ever issued by the state.
And throughout the entire permitting process,” Odom added, “Titan America has consistently stated that we will meet every federal and state guideline in place now and in the future.”
Air quality officials said the decision-making process on Titan’s air permit may not be ready until 2010.
On Friday, the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic and the Southern Environmental Group issued comments totaling 82-pages to the Division of Air Quality, detailing evidence that suggests shortcomings in the state’s modeling processes and calculations in its draft air permit, giving credence to opponents’ concerns.
Duke asserted in its comments that “these shortcomings are not only legally deficient; they also represent a political determination that it is more expedient to violate the public trust than to use the full power and discretion vested in the agency by law to protect them for the use of future generations.”