"A strong clean energy economy combats climate change while creating good jobs and a healthy environment," Cooper asserted at a news conference on the SAS Software Campus in Cary. "With historic storms lashing our state, we must combat climate change, make our state more resilient and lessen the impact of future natural disasters."
The order, "North Carolina's Commitment to Address Climate Change and Transition to a Clean Energy Economy" mandates a statewide reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 2005 levels, while also ordering state buildings to reduce energy consumption by 40% by 2002-2003 levels. Cooper's action also enables the Department of Commerce to incentivize private companies to go green and invest in alternative energy.
"(Climate change) means sea level rise, stronger storms and erratic weather," Cooper added. "It's time for North Carolinians to do our part and take action."
Officials also confirmed the creation of the North Carolina Climate Change Interagency Council, a body including a representative from every state cabinet agency, to make changes happen.
The order also directs the following actions:
- The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will develop a North Carolina Clean Energy Plan to encourage the use of clean energy, including wind, solar, energy efficiency, and energy storage.
- The North Carolina Department of Transportation will develop a plan to accelerate the use of zero-emission vehicles across state government. Cabinet agencies will prioritize the use of ZEVs for trips that can reasonably be made with a ZEV.
- DEQ will help cabinet agencies improve their energy efficiency and publicly report utility consumption.
- The North Carolina Department of Commerce will support the expansion of clean energy businesses and service providers, clean technology investment, and companies with a commitment to procuring renewable energy.
- All cabinet agencies will integrate climate mitigation and resiliency planning into their policies, programs and operations.
Environmental groups were quick to applaud the Governor's action.
"Governor Cooper's action is the kind of responsible environmental leadership North Carolina so desperately needs, recently highlighted by the devastation to our state from hurricanes Florence and Matthew," said June Blotnick, executive director, Clean Air Carolina. "This directive will create jobs, save hard-earned taxpayer dollars and move us away from the dirty fuels that pollute our air and accelerate climate change. Setting an aggressive and achievable standard acknowledges the urgency underscored by the recent international report on climate change. These state targets combined with similar goals set by Charlotte, Asheville, Boone, Wake County and others will advance our transition to a clean energy economy and that's good for all North Carolinians."
Republican leaders, meantime, offered a mix of support and apprehension.
"State officials should do everything in our power to increase the efficiency of government buildings and motor fleets to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and the environment, so I'm open to reviewing specific strategies and proposals that would achieve those goals on behalf of North Carolinians," Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) told ABC11. "Effective energy reform requires bipartisan cooperation, like the Competitive Energy Solutions Act passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor in 2017, so we must continue to work together towards other commonsense reforms that secure a sustainable and affordable future to benefit North Carolina families and businesses."
Senate President Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), however, argued, "While arbitrary platitudes might satisfy far-left donors, our state's energy policies have to account for the real costs they impose on the public. I support an all-of-the-above energy strategy that includes renewables, but I don't support programs that have minimal positive impact and can only sustain themselves with taxpayer and ratepayer money from those who can least afford it. The key is to find solutions that actually work in the private market, and I'm open to any and all ideas that help get us there."
When it comes to public opinion, Gov. Cooper appears to have strong support: a recent poll by Elon University rates Cooper's approval rating at 87 percent for his response to Hurricane Florence.
The poll also gauged North Carolinians' opinions on the environment and environmental policy, and reports 76 percent of respondents support restricting some real estate development in flood-prone areas and 62 percent say the government should incorporate findings from climate change scientists into future planning.