Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order Tuesday rebranding the secretary of Environmental Quality’s Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board as the Governor’s Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

He said Executive Order 292 builds upon Executive Order 246, issued in January 2022 (which targets reducing greenhouse gas emissions by increasing the statewide goal to a 50% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030 and achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050). The new order will expand upon the success of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and create a forum for environmental justice concerns and opportunities throughout state government and the governor’s cabinet.

“The cause of environmental justice began in North Carolina more than forty years ago (in 1982 with community protests in Warren County opposing a proposed hazardous waste landfill), and this effort will help our state take this challenge head on,” he said in a press release. “This Executive Order directs a whole of government approach that listens to communities that are suffering from pollution and the effects of climate change, and takes action to help them become safer, healthier and more sustainable environments.”

The order, Cooper said, is designed to protect people from adverse human health effects and environmental hazards, including those related to climate change, the cumulative impacts of environmental and other burdens, and the legacy of racism or other structural or systemic barriers. He said it would also create equitable access to a healthy, sustainable, and resilient environment to live, play, work, learn, grow, worship, and engage in cultural and subsistence practices, regardless of income, race, color, national origin, or Tribal affiliation.

The Council will be comprised of 22 members, including 11 that the governor will appoint and 11 that will consist of designees of each Cabinet secretary that reports to the governor. The governor will also select the chair or co-chairs to lead the council. Members selected by the governor will include representatives of academic institutions, environmental and community organizations, local governments, and American Indian tribes. 

Each Cabinet agency will have 120 days to develop at least three draft environmental justice goals and measurable outcomes. They will then be submitted to the council for publication for a 60-day public comment period.

The Department of Information Technology (DIT) will also have 12 months to develop and publish an Environmental Justice Hub, including a statewide environmental justice mapping tool and additional information about environmental justice resources across state government.

Finally, the order directs the governor’s office and cabinet agencies to incorporate environmental justice considerations into their policies and programs, to the extent permitted by law, and encourages cabinet agencies to use the EJ mapping tool.