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Gov. Cooper executive order calls for deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, focuses on environmental justice

Gov. Cooper signed Executive Order 246 today at NC A&T University (Screenshot: Governor’s Facebook page)

Gov. Roy Cooper signed an ambitious executive order today designed to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide and to emphasize environmental justice in agency decisions, beyond the NC Department of Environmental Quality.

Executive Order 246 sets several targets to mitigate the damage of climate change, including the reduction of statewide greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% over 2005 levels by 2030; and net-zero emissions as soon as possible, no later than 2050.

The 50% reductions are in line with U.S. commitments under the international Paris Agreement.

“One of the main goals of my administration is to move us toward a clean energy economy to fight the existential threat of climate change and to create good paying jobs,” Cooper said at the signing ceremony at NC A&T University in Greensboro. “We know that climate change has caused more severe storms and often the effects of these storms hurt most the people who can afford it the least.”

The new goals build on a previous executive order, known as EO 80, that the governor signed in the fall of 2018. That document set a goal of a 40% reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions over 2005 levels, and 80,000 registered zero-emissions vehicles by 2025.

Executive Order 218, signed last June, advances North Carolina’s offshore wind energy.

The state’s progress toward the 2018 goals will likely be revealed in an updated state greenhouse gas inventory that the NC Department of Environmental Quality must release by Jan. 31.

Environmental justice composes a significant portion of the executive order. Each cabinet agency “shall identify” and environmental justice and equity lead to serve as a point person for those initiatives. These include sharing data and activities, as well as agency decisions that could significantly affect communities of color and underserved areas.

“For too long, our low- and moderate-income communities, communities of color and indigenous communities have been disproportionately impacted by pollution and climate change,” Cooper said, adding that his order “prioritizes funding” to mitigate the harm of climate change in these areas.

NC DEQ Secretary Elizabeth Biser: “What’s good for the environment is also good for our economy.”

These interagency communications, both internally and with the public, are important. In some cases, an agency, such as the Department of Transportation or the Department of Commerce approves projects with environmental justice ramifications.

For example, DOT’s 540 toll road extension in Wake County runs through a portion of a low-income mobile home community. And the Commerce Department has the power to grant incentives to polluting businesses and industries; Active Energy, a proposed but as yet operational wood pellet plant was awarded $500,000 in building reuse funds, even though the facility’s emissions would create air pollution. That money has yet to be distributed because the status of the plant is in limbo.

The executive order sets several additional deadlines:

  • Each agency also must develop a public participation plan for underserved neighborhoods and communities of color by
    June 1.
  • The state’s “Deep Decarbonization Pathways Analysis” will evaluates potential ways to reduce emissions to achieve the 2050 net-zero goal and any interim targets. The Pathways Analysis shall be completed for the state Climate Change Interagency Council to submit to the governor by Jan. 7, 2023.
  • DOT, DEQ, the Commerce Department, and other relevant agencies, shall develop a North Carolina Clean Transportation Plan for the Climate Council to submit to the governor by April 2023.

DEQ Secretary Elizabeth Biser said the governor’s order provides economic, environmental and public health benefits. The order contains measures to ensure that “those benefits reach every community as we advance climate and energy goals,” Biser said.

James Johnson, chairman of the Secretaries’ Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board: “In several important ways this executive order casts new  light on environmental inequities and imposes greater accountability on the state to address inequity.”

Environmental advocates quickly commented on today’s order:

“Gov. Cooper’s Executive Order No. 246 offers a robust, sensible roadmap for combating climate change that will help steer North Carolina toward a cleaner, carbon-free future. The order also brings more needed attention to the issue of environmental justice and equity. The voices of impacted and underserved communities deserve to be given weight in the halls of power, and this order is a step in the right direction.” — Brian Buzby, executive director, NC Conservation Network

“The voices of communities disproportionately impacted by sources of pollution must be front and center on policy decisions affecting their health. We are hopeful that today’s action will begin that process. For far too long BIPOC communities have suffered from environmental racism, with heavy industrial activity and pollution clustered in their neighborhoods. This Executive Order will finally require all state agencies to listen to residents before, during, and after economic development decisions are made.” — Daisha Williams, environmental justice manager, CleanAIRE NC

“We are excited that Gov. Cooper is continuing to lead our state on a just transition toward a clean energy and clean transportation economy. ‘Just’ is the key word here. This new executive order not only ramps up this transition for all North Carolinians but puts a focus on ensuring justice and equity for the communities most impacted by pollution and climate change, namely communities of color.” — Montravias King, Clean Energy Campaigns director, NC League of Conservation Voters

“For too long, conversations regarding equity and climate have been siloed, when in reality these issues deeply intersect as historically marginalized communities bear the disproportionate burden of pollution and are on the frontlines of increasingly damaging climate impacts. EO246 sets the stage to consider these issues in tandem, which is essential to making meaningful progress towards a more equitable, climate-safe future.” — David Kelly, North Carolina state director, Environmental Defense Fund

“For years, we’ve been advocating that the Cooper administration expand its focus on climate change to include the transportation sector, which is quickly becoming the number one source for heat-trapping emissions in North Carolina. We welcome the governor taking this step and look forward to working with the administration to create a meaningful clean transportation plan that sets out wide-ranging strategies to reduce emissions, and to do so equitably.” — Mary Maclean Asbill, director of the Southern Environmental Law Center‘s North Carolina office

“Since transportation emissions are the nation’s top contributor to climate change, we’re very pleased that the executive order sets up a pathway to decarbonize North Carolina’s transportation sector. This executive order answers the need to move beyond fossil-fueled transportation.” — Cynthia Satterfield, state director of the NC Sierra Club

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