Special to Iredell Free News

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper today issued Executive Order No. 271 directing swift action to accelerate the state’s transition to a clean energy economy that creates good jobs and opportunities for all North Carolinians while protecting public health and the environment.

The Order positions North Carolina to benefit from the global market transition to zero-emission vans, buses and trucks by ensuring that new vehicle technologies will be available to businesses across the state and directing state agencies to pursue strategies and investments that will support the affordable, equitable and reliable growth of the zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) market. By reducing pollution from dirty vehicles that harm all North Carolinians and especially low-income communities and communities of color, the Order will encourage economic development and job growth across the state, maximize consumer choice for small businesses and advance the state’s climate and environmental justice objectives.

“North Carolina has demonstrated that by leading the transition to clean energy we can grow our economy and create good paying jobs while reducing local pollution and confronting the climate crisis,” Cooper said. “North Carolina is already a national hub for truck and bus manufacturing and supply chain development, and we should not miss the opportunity to lead the market-driven transition already underway to cleaner and increasingly cheaper zero-emission technologies that benefit our economy and our communities.”

Auto manufacturers are increasingly committing to the production of ZEVs and a growing number of businesses in the state are transitioning to ZEVs to save money, remain economically competitive and meet sustainability goals. Executive Order 271 directs the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to work with stakeholders to propose to the Environmental Management Commission an Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) program that would ensure zero-emission trucks and buses are available for purchase in the state. ACT would require manufacturers to sell an increasing percentage of ZEVs over time while providing flexibility, through credits, trading and other features, as segments of the market grow at different speeds. The sales targets would also drive investment in other zero-emission technologies including charging and fueling infrastructure, while bolstering North Carolina’s competitiveness in seeking billions of dollars in federal funding for clean energy development.

“Using the Clean Air Act to support the market transition to clean transportation will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide health benefits to communities across our state,” said DEQ Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser.

Executive Order 271 also outlines a comprehensive strategy for the State to support automakers, fleet owners, and other partners to grow the MHD (Medium- and Heavy-Duty) ZEV market through investment in charging infrastructure, purchase incentives, workforce development, demonstration projects, technical assistance, and other strategies identified through development of the North Carolina Clean Transportation Plan and supported by unprecedented federal funding through Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. The Order also directs the development of a North Carolina ZEV Infrastructure Needs Assessment to identify charging and fueling needs to ensure an affordable, equitable and reliable infrastructure network to support the Advanced Clean Trucks program and the ZEV targets established in Executive Order No. 246.

“Today’s action moves North Carolina closer to a clean transportation economy that will benefit communities across the state,” said state Transportation Secretary J. Eric Boyette. “Increasing the use of zero-emission vehicles will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, advance environmental justice and create good-paying jobs tied to clean transportation.”

The State of North Carolina will continue to lead by example in transitioning to clean energy and E.O. 271 expands Cabinet agency efforts to transition the state motor fleet to ZEVs, including the buses and trucks covered by the ACT program. Under the Order, DEQ will also enhance public-private partnerships by expanding the Environmental Stewardship Initiative to support and recognize companies and facilities that increase the share of ZEVs in their van, bus and truck fleets.

Air pollution from buses and trucks predominately powered by diesel engines worsens asthma and other cardio-respiratory illnesses, especially in children and older adults, can trigger heart attacks and strokes, and lead to other negative health impacts. While this pollution harms all North Carolinians it disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color that are often located near trucking corridors, ports, fleet garages, warehouses, and other distribution hubs. E.O. 271 provides clear direction for Cabinet agencies to prioritize strategies that will further environmental justice and health equity by improving health outcomes for communities disproportionately impacted by air pollution and increasing affordable access to clean transportation options.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will also take steps to increase understanding of the disproportionate health impacts of bus and truck emissions on underserved communities and people of color, including by publishing a commentary on the environmental justice impacts of transportation-related air pollutants, incorporating the best available air quality and environmental justice metrics into the DHHS Environmental Health Data Dashboard, and notifying community stakeholders about relevant funding opportunities to address the health impacts of transportation-related emissions.

“The environment where we live, work and play affects our health,” said DHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. “Reducing air pollution from trucks and buses is a smart upstream investment to help prevent cancer, respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases and other illnesses.”

Over the last six months, stakeholders including businesses, public health​ experts, environmental and social justice organizations, local governments and other stakeholders advocated for the adoption of the ​strong policies to support the growth of the zero-emission truck and bus market​ in North Carolina.

The Executive Order builds on the Governor’s previous actions to grow the clean energy economy and a clean transportation future. Earlier this month, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality awarded more than $30 million from the Volkswagen Settlement Program to fund 161 new school buses across the state, with the majority of funding going toward new all-electric school buses. In January 2022, the Governor signed Executive Order No. 246 which established new emissions reduction and zero-emission vehicle goals and directed the state to identify pathways to achieve those goals in a manner centers environmental justice and economic opportunity including by developing the North Carolina Clean Transportation Plan.

In 2020, the governor joined the Multi-State Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero-Emission Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding to reduce pollution and grow the MHD ZEV market by striving to achieve sales shares of 30% by 2030 and 100% no later than 2050.

The N.C. Department of Administration has seven Ford E-Transit cargo vans and six charging stations that are used to transport mail between state government agencies. Together, the vans travel 97,000 miles annually, resulting in fuel cost savings of more than $14,000 dollars per year. Replacing fuel-operated vehicles with electric vans will save approximately 43 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent on an annual basis.