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WFAE reporter David Boraks explores how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

Gov. Roy Cooper order boosts NC's climate goals and targets environmental injustice

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Gov. Roy Cooper's office
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Gov. Roy Cooper signed a new climate and environmental justice executive order at North Carolina A&T State University on Friday.

A new executive order from Governor Roy Cooper sets more ambitious goals for fighting climate change across the state and calls for new efforts to limit environmental injustice.

In a ceremony at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, Cooper signed Executive Order 246. It's the latest in a series of orders since 2018 that aim at various aspects of climate change, from climate planning to electric vehicles to offshore wind energy.

Cooper called it "another important step to increase the goals of greenhouse gas reductions, move more quickly to clean transportation, and to curb environmental injustices that affect our most vulnerable communities."

The wide-ranging order has implications for governments, private businesses and individuals. Among other things the order:

  • Calls for cutting statewide greenhouse gas emissions 50% from 2005 levels by 2030 and to net zero by 2050. A previous order in 2018 had set a goal of 40% by 2025. That applies to all sectors, not just energy, which most recently was addressed in the energy reform bill Cooper signed this summer. 
  • Sets a goal of getting 1.25 million zero-emissions electric vehicles on state roads by 2030. That's up from the governor's previous goal of 80,000 by 2025. North Carolina had about 25,000 EVs registered at the end of 2021, according to NCDOT. Cooper also wants half of all new sales by then to be EVs. It's currently less than 2%.  
  • Directs the state Department of Transportation to draft a "Clean Transportation Plan," which would include boosting electric cars, trucks and buses and reducing the number of vehicle miles traveled on state roads.  
  • Requires state cabinet agencies to designate "environmental justice leads" who would oversee environmental justice efforts.  
  • Calls on state and local governments, educational institutions and private businesses to consider environmental justice in climate planning and budgeting. 
  • Calls for a statewide greenhouse gas inventory, "so we will know where we are and where we need to be," Cooper said. 

"We know that a lot of people in marginalized communities, communities of color, live in places that are most impacted by climate change," Cooper said. He said the state first wants to recognize that, and then figure out how to fund projects that will help make these communities more resilient.
He suggested resilience may not be enough in some cases. "There may need to be retreat and rebuilding of these communities," he said.

"This executive order does not have all of the answers," Cooper said. "But what we found out in this process before (is) massive stakeholder engagement, can get us to a better place."

Environmental and social justice groups applauded the order, saying it will speed up the state's fight against climate change while also ensuring it doesn't affect some groups unfairly.

"This executive order not only ramps up this transition for all North Carolinians, but puts a focus on ensuring justice and equity for communities most impacted by pollution and climate change, namely communities of color," said Montravias King, Clean Energy Campaigns director with the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters.

Daisha Williams, the environmental justice manager at CleanAIRE NC, said she hopes the order will give people more of a say in what happens to their communities. “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,” Williams said. "This executive order will finally require all state agencies to listen to residents before, during and after economic development decisions are made.”

The state's renewable energy industry joined the praise. “NC Sustainable Energy Association commends Governor Cooper and his administration for their continued commitment to expanding North Carolina's clean energy economy and ensuring all of our residents have greater access to clean, affordable energy sources, technologies and transportation,” the organization's executive director Ward Lenz said in a statement.

Read Executive Order 246, "North Carolina's Transformation to a Clean, Equitable Economy"

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