Three Republican lawmakers are questioning the legality and affordability of Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest executive action on clean energy, including how to pay for bridge and road repairs if electric vehicles replace gas-powered vehicles.

Sens. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond; Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus; and Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell; sent a letter to Cooper on Jan. 19 taking aim at Executive Order 246. It calls for an increase in registered zero-emission vehicles to at least 1.25 million 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. 

The Senate trio says Cooper is “shifting the goalposts” by appearing to establish new emissions reduction goals. “Your new goals, which you announced without consultation with the negotiators who worked with you for many months to develop House Bill 951, do not have force of law,” they stated.

In 2021, Cooper, a Democrat, signed House Bill 951, a bipartisan law requiring the N.C. Utilities Commission to take the necessary steps so that state utility providers 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, which would hurt poor families and small businesses. 

The lawmakers asked how the governor plans to make up for lost revenue if there is no longer a gas tax to pay for roads and bridges, and where the money will come from to pay for the construction of charging stations. They also asked the governor about how he plans to mitigate the upfront cost and repairs of the more expensive electric vehicles for people with low incomes.

Other questions involve how much reliability the governor is willing to forgo to achieve his carbon reduction goals. They say it would be unlawful, as it would be inconsistent with House Bill 951, an energy bill Cooper signed in October.

They also ask if the governor is willing to accept consumer energy price increases for households and how much; if he believes an expansion of nuclear energy is a viable option to achieving his carbon reduction goals — why or why not? They also ask whether the governor is aware that a disruption in the state’s supply of natural gas would cause immediate, real-time disruptions to the state’s energy grid. 

Cooper’s director for Clean Energy, Dionne Delli-Gatti, responded to the senators with a letter Jan. 24, in which Delli-Gatti says H.B. 951 applies specifically to the electricity sector, and “the focus and related goals of EO 246 are economywide and does not modify or attempt to modify any of the components of H.B. 951.” 

“Our bipartisan success with H.B. 951 will ensure continued access to reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy,” she said.  “Meeting H.B. 951’s ambitious emissions goals and becoming a national leader in clean energy will help our state combat climate change and recruit high-paying jobs,” Delli-Gatti added. 

The letter goes on to say the state is working with the federal government and the private sector to increase the availability of charging infrastructure throughout the state. It will be helped, in part, with the distribution of money from a Volkswagen legal settlement and the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.