North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, D, issued an executive order on Friday that outlines the state's next steps toward its goal of halving carbon emissions by 2030, and achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
The order calls for zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) to comprise 50% of in-state automobile sales by 2030, and requires multiple government agencies to incorporate questions of equity and economic justice into future decision-making processes.
The order drew praise from multiple advocacy groups, who had asked the governor to integrate transportation and equity into the state's climate objectives.
Transportation and equity are the two next fronts on which North Carolina will combat climate change, according to Cooper.
Cooper expanded North Carolina's existing climate goals by adding a new target: 1.25 million zero-emission vehicles registered in the state by 2030. The order aims for ZEVs to account for half of all new automobiles sold by that same date, and requires the North Carolina Department of Transportation to work with the state Department of Environmental Quality to develop a Clean Transportation Plan for accomplishing these goals. The plan should include a variety of pathways, including the decreased usage of single occupancy vehicles and increased alternative transportation, according to Friday's order.
The transportation provisions in the executive order create a much more comprehensive climate strategy than previous goals, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center.
"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," Mary Maclean Asbill, director of the Southern Environmental Law Center's North Carolina offices, said in a statement. "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."
The inclusion of provisions related to social equity also drew praise from climate advocacy groups who argued the integration of climate and environmental justice was overdue.
"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," David Kelly, North Carolina state director for the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement. The executive order, Kelly said, "sets the stage to consider these issues in tandem, which is essential to making meaningful progress towards a more equitable, climate-safe future."
The order calls for increased community engagement, and creates both a task force to evaluate strategies for increasing clean energy workforce diversity, and a clean energy youth apprenticeship program to help students prepare for clean energy-related jobs. It also directs each of the governor's cabinet agencies to identify an environmental justice and equity lead to oversee these efforts. Each agency has a June 1 deadline to publish a public participation plan, and the new environmental justice and equity leads are intended to coordinate efforts for public input and among cabinets.
Environmental groups said they looked forward to working with new and existing community partners as the order takes effect. "We are eager to roll up our sleeves to help ensure that this executive order tangibly advances North Carolina toward a more equitable, cleaner future," Kelly said.