Returning to litigation last mentioned here in April, the Tennessee Valley Administration is appealing a federal judge's ruling that held its coal-fired power plants in Tennessee and Alabama caused a public nuisance by polluting North Carolina's air. Attorney General Roy Cooper sued the TVA in January 2006 (news release, complaint). In January 2000 U.S. District Judge U.S. District Judge Lacy Thornburg ruled that emissions from the TVA's plants caused "significant hurt, inconvenience [and] damage'' in North Carolina, even though the plants were compliant with the Clean Air Act permits and their home states' emission limits. The court ordered the TVA to upgrade, install or speed installation of environmental technology.
In May, the TVA appealed to Fourth Circuit as related in this news release, "TVA Files to Appeal in North Carolina Lawsuit." Then, earlier this month the AG's office responded in its own filings claiming any delays would harm the state's citizens. (Asheville Citizen-Times, "NC: No delay in TVA's clean-up.")
Amid all this predictable back and forth are other, more provocative stories dug up by The Carolina Journal, a publication of the free-market group, the John Locke Foundation. There's this, "DAQ Scrapped Report After Meeting With AG Lawyers: "RALEIGH -- The N.C. Division of Air Quality scrapped a pollution report days after lawyers working for Attorney General Roy Cooper expressed concerns that its findings might lead to unwanted questions about the state's lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority."
And now....a fun story about AG Cooper's state-hired lawyers and staffers spending gas tax revenue to pay for but not stay in D.C. hotel rooms, "Law Firm Racked Up Hotel, Airline Fees":
RALEIGH -- Attorney General Roy Cooper used North Carolina gas-tax revenue to reimburse Washington lawyers thousands of dollars in unnecessary hotel and airline fees, according to receipts and travel records obtained by Carolina Journal.
The documents suggest that Cooper's office has been less than thorough in reviewing expense reports submitted by Resolution Law Group, a firm assisting Cooper in his pollution control suit against the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Invoices show that a Resolution paralegal was reimbursed almost $7,000 last year for a month-long stay at an upscale Washington, D.C., hotel. But airline receipts indicate that she was present at the hotel only 12 out of 29 nights, incurring more than $4,000 in unused room fees....
As reported by CJ in March, Cooper also repaid Resolution lawyers for alcohol, candy, airline flight upgrades, and valet parking, in addition to paying the Ayres Law Group, a second firm assisting with the TVA case, up to $515 per hour in legal fees.
Well, of course you pay for the valet parking. It's coming from gas tax revenues, after all.
Many conservative think tanks have taken up government transparency as a cause in recent years, stressing the importance of accessible information to hold elected officials and government agencies accountable. The Carolina Journal's reporting by David Bass is the kind of good work that can result.
Or maybe it's just good journalism.