On Oct. 25, Gov. Roy Cooper issued Executive Order No. 271, which aims to grow the state’s clean energy economy by accelerating the transition to zero-emission vans, trucks and buses.
The order will encourage the state’s economic development and job growth while advancing climate and environmental justice by reducing vehicle pollution, according to a press release from the Governor's Office.
Trey Gowdy, a research analyst at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability, said North Carolina was the seventh state in the country and the first state in the southeast to implement this effort.
Gowdy said greenhouse gas emissions from transportation are approximately 36 percent of the state’s total emissions. Medium and heavy-duty diesel vehicles are one of the largest contributors of transportation emissions — second to light-duty vehicles.
“If we’re going to be successful in reducing transportation emissions, medium and heavy-duty vehicles are going to be a key part of a mix of solutions in the transportation sector,” Gowdy said in an email.
The executive order outlines a comprehensive strategy for auto manufacturers, fleet owners and other partners to grow the zero-emission vehicles market.
The order directed the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to work with stakeholders to propose to the Environmental Management Commission a program to ensure that zero-emission vehicles are available for purchase in the state.
Dr. Kathleen Shapley-Quinn, executive director of NC Clinicians for Climate Action said the executive order puts the state in the right direction to do the right things for health, economy and communities.
She said this is especially important for the communities most affected.
While pollution negatively impacts all North Carolinians, it "disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color," according to the press release from the Governor's Office. These residents are often located near trucking corridors, ports, fleet garages, warehouses and other distribution hubs, according to the press release.
The order helps prioritize strategies for further environmental justice and health equity, especially for underserved areas, by improving health outcomes and increasing affordable access to clean transportation.
“We have the tools and we have the opportunities in front of us to make a huge difference and we need to move quickly,” Shapley-Quinn said.
Jennifer L. Weiss, senior advisor for climate change policy in the N.C. Department of Transportation, said the department has been working with stakeholders since April to brainstorm ideas on how to transition delivery trucks to zero-emission fuels or lower-emission fuels.
The department is working to identify the areas where they could make an impact in the state and working with stakeholders to make it happen.
Through considering opportunities within clean transportation, she said they will be drafting a clean transportation plan. It will be released early next year and provided to Cooper on Apr. 7.
“So not only are we going to be reducing emissions and improving all of our health, we're also gonna be able to do it hopefully in a really equitable way that a lot of people in the state will benefit from,” Weiss said. “And that's what we're hoping we're gonna accomplish with all of this work, not just the medium heavy duty, but the clean transportation plan in general.”
Weiss said some of the environmental hurdles they will need to identify and "jump over" will be putting infrastructure in place and providing means to charge electric vehicles.
“Any transition to a new technology faces some level of uncertainty, and I expect the planning period will look into these issues and other potential challenges,” Gowdy said in an email.
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