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Exploring how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

Cooper pushes back on bills to weaken North Carolina's climate response

Gov. Roy Cooper appealed for support in fighting legislation that he says would undo his clean energy efforts. He spoke at the State Energy Conference in Raleigh Wednesday.
David Boraks
Gov. Roy Cooper appealed for support in fighting legislation that he says would undo his clean energy efforts. He spoke at the State Energy Conference in Raleigh Wednesday.

Gov. Roy Cooper urged business leaders at a conference in Raleigh on Wednesday to help resist legislative efforts to slow the state's clean energy push.

Cooper outlined his administration's efforts to shift North Carolina to clean energy sources and address climate change in remarks at the State Energy Conference. Those include the bipartisan energy reform law passed in 2021, known as House Bill 951. Cooper asked for support in fighting proposals that would block or roll back efforts to boost electric trucks and buses, energy efficiency and offshore wind development.

"These are the kinds of things we need to do to speak up to let these processes work to make sure we are fully moving to a clean energy economy," Cooper said.

The governor also said increasing clean energy and transportation helps recruit companies and jobs to the state, and that weakening those policies would hurt economic development. Republicans opposed to Cooper's measures say they would increase costs for businesses and consumers.

Cooper specifically mentioned Senate Bill 678, a measure that would give nuclear power preference over wind and solar power. Right now, such decisions are up to state utility regulators who approve the state's plan to reduce heat-trapping carbon pollution. The bill would change the wording in state law from "renewable energy" to "clean energy" — a small but significant shift — and promote the use of nuclear energy. It passed the Senate environment committee this week.

"The key here is to not mess up what we have done with moving to a clean energy economy in North Carolina," Cooper said. "We now have all the ingredients we need for the carbon plan. We know that nuclear energy is going to be a part of that. But we don't want to upset or take away the Utilities Commission's decision-making authority on what energies go into the clean energy plan."

Some legislators in the Republican-controlled legislature are also targeting electric vehicles. A provision in the state budget would block Cooper's plan to have North Carolina adopt what is called Advanced Clean Truck rules.

Trucks are a major source of the climate pollution that causes global warming. The so-called ACT rules, modeled after those in California, would require vehicle manufacturers to sell an increasing number of electric trucks and buses starting in four years. Sales targets would apply to all vehicles over 6,000 pounds, from larger pickups and minivans to tractor-trailers and dump trucks. The rules would also apply to school and private buses — but not to public transit buses, which are covered under other rules.

Cooper said North Carolina wants to be among the first to get access to new generations of electric heavy vehicles.

"What I want to do is to make sure that North Carolina businesses have the best choices at the lowest cost, because we know that these (truck and bus) manufacturers are going to concentrate in those states that have this rule," Cooper said.

Cooper also took aim at a bill that would bar the state's Building Code Council, which he appoints, from revising North Carolina's outdated energy efficiency rules for new construction until 2031. The current rules are based on standards from 2009, and the council is poised to adopt modern standards governing insulation, roofs, and heating and cooling appliances, among other things.

"I think the Building Code Council should be allowed to do its work," Cooper said after his speech.

There's a battle in Raleigh over energy efficiency standards and building codes that has implications for both North Carolina's climate change efforts and the short- and long-term costs of homeownership.

The North Carolina Home Builders Association supports the General Assembly's bill and says the council's proposed changes would make new houses unaffordable. But Cooper said the proposed standards could save homeowners money on energy bills over time.

"And to just come in and just say, 'No, you can't do that for a number of years,' I think that's backward-looking," Cooper said.

Yet another bill, Senate Bill 697, would impose a moratorium on wind farms off the North Carolina coast. It's supported by Republicans Bobby Hanig, who represents some coastal counties, and Timothy Moffit, whose district includes Henderson, Polk and Rutherford counties.

The federal government has signed leases with three companies, including Duke Energy, to develop three offshore wind areas in North Carolina. Cooper has made the industry a priority both as a climate solution and for economic development. He told the audience that slowing wind development would threaten the state's efforts to tap into an estimated $100 billion supply chain that will come with wind farms.

"Not only do we have massive potential for electricity generation with offshore wind, it'll translate into real dollars at our state ports and our manufacturing sector and in our overall business climate," Cooper said.

The bill's authors say wind power projects could negatively affect "scenic and aesthetic resources, and recreational and economic uses, including commercial and recreational fishing."

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.