Group calls for ethics investigation of NC House speaker

Former DEQ Secretary van der Vaart says he's confident that standard procedures were followed.

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
NC Speaker of the House Tim Moore resides over a special session of the N.C. House. FILE

Raleigh – The Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Accountability (CfA) filed a request with the N.C. State Ethics Commission Monday calling for an investigation into the enforcement of environmental regulations on a Siler City property owned, in part, by House Speaker Tim Moore.

CfA included in the request documents they say they got from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality through a public records request. The records show 2014 inspection reports and email exchanges between DEQ regulatory officials and Moore.

According to the documents, Moore requested and received an extension on requirements that Southeast Land Holdings LLC, for which he was the vice president, empty and remove two unused underground storage tanks (UST) from a former poultry plant that the company owned. Southeast Land Holdings was in the process of trying to sell the property and CfA claims that Moore could have used his political clout to get the extension.

“This complaint is a meritless election-year political ploy,” said House Speaker Tim Moore.  “As the public records demonstrate, the Siler City project was a private property redevelopment handled properly by a state agency.  DEQ and their underground storage tank division dealt with the project as they would any other business and we complied.”

The emails that formed the foundation for the CfA request include one in which that former DEQ Assistant Secretary Tom Reeder sent an email on May 7, 2015 to Director of North Carolina Waste Management Linda Culpepper, cc’ing other department officials, stating, “Linda – DWM should handle this case just like it would any other one with similar circumstances.  Thanks”

Moore was then notified that he should request an extension and emails show that he did so on May 12, and the extension was granted on May 17, 2015.  Former DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart led the department at that time and says he’s confident that appropriate department policy was followed.

“Tom Reeder, John Evans, and I were all career employees. Our position was always to treat everyone the same,” said van der Vaart in an email. “While extensions are generally possible in the various programs, our instructions were to follow standard procedures.  I feel confident that Ms. Culpepper, who is also an experienced State employee, followed standard procedures.”

CfA says that the lack of data to provide the reason for the extension decision indicates that Moore may have tried to use his position to influence the outcome for his benefit.  CfA bills itself as a “non-partisan watchdog group.” According to its website, the group’s past legal actions and complaints include ethics accusations against Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Utah State Representative Michael Noel, also a Republican, as well as efforts to have the divorce record of former Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder unsealed. They also have a division that has taken a series of legal and investigative actions against anti-abortion groups across the country.