On Oct. 17, John Stossel alerted “Stossel TV” viewers to the threat of California bureaucrats imposing their trucking regulations outside their own borders. The episode was given the ironic title “California’s Green Dream: Coming to Your State?” 

The episode focused on Pennsylvania, whose “Environmental Quality Board decided to automatically copy rules from California” and said doing so is “important to stop pollution.” Stossel showed all it’s really going to do, however, is stop trucking in Pennsylvania. 

As a truck driver explains to Stossel, the new rules will “raise the cost of new trucks by more than $50,000,” forcing Pennsylvania drivers to stay with older trucks — which are significantly greater sources of air pollution than newer trucks — until California bureaucrats force them to go “all electric.” 

What Stossel doesn’t discuss is why Pennsylvania is putting California’s rules into their code. It goes back to July 10, 2020, when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” with California Gov. Gavin Newsom to align his state’s regulation of trucks and buses with California’s, as well as to promote sales of electric vehicles and depress sales of conventional, gasoline-powered vehicles. 

That same day, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed that same memorandum. Then in 2022, he issued an executive order to have the state Department of Transportation basically put California’s environmental rules into the state’s administrative code. Cooper ordered DOT to develop and implement a “Clean Transportation Plan” to emphasize “near-term action” for “decarbonizing the transportation sector.” Cooper’s order stated that the plan must include a focus on “transitioning” trucks and buses to zero-emissions vehicles as “informed by North Carolina’s participation” in Newsom’s memorandum. 

So are California trucking rules coming to our state? 

No, thanks to appropriate action taken by the General Assembly. 

The General Assembly writes the laws in North Carolina, not the executive branch, and certainly not some other state’s executive branch. 

Why would a governor import another state’s rules in the first place? Outside of obvious constitutional implications, the act would seem thoroughly bereft of civic pride. 

With respect to trucking and automotive regulations, it’s because the federal Clean Air Act lets California impose stricter regulations of vehicular emissions than the federal government and also allows any other state to adopt and enforce California’s standards. Regulation is done by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats using delegated lawmaking power. Environmental radicals prefer it because it’s a much easier power to wield — as long as legislators are too disinterested to protect their constitutional authority from being usurped. 

North Carolina’s legislators, however, underscored their interest in retaining their lawmaking authority. In 2013, they passed the no-more-stringent law to forbid state environmental agencies from issuing stricter environmental regulations than the federal government. The DOT wasn’t included in the agencies listed in the law; however, an omission that must have made the governor think he’d found a loophole. 

If so, the General Assembly just closed it. 

As the North Carolina State Constitution makes clear, and as the no-more-stringent law upholds in principle, the legislative power of North Carolina is “vested in the General Assembly” — not California, not the governor, and not state agencies beyond their legislatively delegated and limited rulemaking authority. 

A provision in the new budget exerts this constitutional authority. On page 373, the General Assembly included a provision to “Prohibit requirements for control of emissions from new motor vehicles.” It states: 

Notwithstanding any authorization granted under 42 U.S.C. § 7507, no agency of the State, including the Department of Environmental Quality, the Environmental Management Commission, the Department of Transportation, or the Department of Administration, may adopt and enforce standards relating to control of emissions from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines, including requirements that mandate the sale or purchase of “zero-emission vehicles,” or electric vehicles as defined in G.S. 20-4.01. 

It contains several noteworthy features: 

  • It applies to all state agencies, including DOT. 
  • It forbids all state agencies, including DOT, from adopting or enforcing “standards relating to control of emissions from new motor vehicles or new motor engines.” 
  • It prevents agencies from mandating sales or purchases of “zero-emission vehicles” or electric vehicles. 

Proper action by the General Assembly has saved North Carolina from the constitutional crisis — not to mention shame — of rule by Californian functionaries. Given the autocratic bent of the current governor, however, they would be wise to expand the no-more-stringent law. 

Legislators should amend the no-more-stringent law to forbid any agency from adopting more restrictive rules than imposed by the federal government. The only ones who should have that power should be elected lawmakers directly accountable to our voters.