Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order Friday, Jan. 7, that aims to reduce greenhouse gases to net-zero by 2050. Cooper also wants to transition all state vehicles to electric and to enhance goals for drivers to switch to electric and other zero-emission vehicles.

Cooper, in a news release, said the action will help create good jobs for residents in underserved communities, but critics say such policies will drive up the cost of energy up for everyone, disproportionately affecting poorer families.

Executive Order No. 246 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.

“Transforming North Carolina toward clean energy and a more equitable economy will provide good jobs and a healthy environment for generations of families across our state,” Cooper said. “We’ve made monumental progress by developing a clean energy plan tailored to our state’s unique challenges and opportunities and passing into law required carbon reduction goals for utility providers. This order will assess our progress reducing climate pollution, and direct ways to curb environmental injustices, increase clean transportation options, and build more resilient communities in North Carolina.”

The order calls for an increase in registered zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) to at least 1,250,000 by 2030 and for 50% of sales of new vehicles in North Carolina to be zero-emission by 2030. It also directs the Department of Transportation to develop a N.C. Clean Transportation Plan for decarbonizing the transportation sector through reductions in vehicle miles traveled, an increase in zero-emission cars, trucks, and buses, and other strategies.

Jon Sanders says Cooper’s order is fraught with problems. He’s the senior fellow, Regulatory Studies, and Research editor at the John Locke Foundation.

“The governor is ordering changes that might sound good to those with no familiarity with the matters at hand, but practically they would raise costs on electricity consumers, from industrial sites on down to poor families struggling to get by,” Sanders said.  “Nor has Cooper considered the emissions problems with electric vehicles. Even considered strictly from the emissions side of it, his order is all cost and no benefit to North Carolina.”

Sanders said that with nearly two-thirds of our energy production from nuclear and natural gas now, North Carolina’s greenhouse gas emissions have been falling dramatically all century.

“He needs to remember his duty is to serve the people of North Carolina, not outside special interests and lobbies,” Sanders said. “Locke’s Energy Crossroads report offers ways to achieve more GHG emissions reductions without crippling the economy or plunging us into a European-style winter of darkness by jeopardizing the reliability and affordability of our energy grid.”

The order also directs state agencies to consider equity when spending money and places an environmental justice lead, who will also have to create public participation plans that guide how public input is sought and to explain relative effects.

Cooper said the N.C. Climate Change Interagency Council will identify strategies to increase diversity in industries and occupations that are critical to addressing climate change in the state. The administration will work with the N.C. Business Committee for Education and others to expand clean energy youth apprenticeship programs that prepare graduates for good-paying careers in the clean energy economy, with an emphasis on educational institutions that serve underrepresented communities.

In 2021, Cooper, a Democrat, signed House Bill 951, a bipartisan law requiring the N.C. Utilities Commission to take the necessary steps for state utility providers to reduce carbon emissions by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Critics, though, expressed concerns that signing that bill into law would increase electric rates that would especially hurt poor families and small businesses.