By Greg Barnes

Roy Cooper gave cabinet secretaries their marching orders Wednesday to fulfill his executive order calling for a 40 percent reduction in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

Speaking to a packed house in a conference room at the Nature Research Center in the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, Cooper noted the progress that has been made to reduce pollution in the state. But he said efforts for a cleaner, healthier North Carolina have stalled.

“Since 2011, we have not made the kind of progress that we need to make,” Cooper said. “It is now time to step up, bring all of state government together, our business community, our environmental community, and to make sure North Carolina is a leader in fighting climate change.”

The North Carolina Climate Change Interagency Council, made up of cabinet secretaries or their representatives, met for the first time to discuss Cooper’s executive order and begin mapping out strategies.

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Headed by Michael Regan, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Quality, the council is tasked with reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 2005 levels, increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles from 9,000 to at least 80,000, and reducing energy consumption in state-owned buildings by 40 percent.

Executive Order 80 initiates the largest mobilization of clean energy resources and strategies in our state’s history,” Regan said at the beginning of the meeting. “From using zero-emission vehicles to tasking all of us with the development of a state clean energy plan, this council was created to recommend the best ideas to meaningfully address our changing climate while keeping North Carolina safe, healthy and globally competitive.”

As part of the order, DEQ will develop a North Carolina Clean Energy Plan to encourage the use of renewable energy, including wind and solar power. The 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.

But getting his priorities addressed could be a challenge for Cooper. During the 2017 legislative session, General Assembly lawmakers placed a moratorium on wind farm development that will end at the end of this month. Critics argued that the moratorium slowed development of the power source. To move forward on more solar and wind power will likely need the legislature’s approval.

Already feeling effects?

Cooper said people don’t have to look far to see the devastating effects of climate change. He noted three so-called 500-year storms in the last 19 years, the last two — Hurricanes Matthew and Florence — coming within 23 months of each other.

shows a group of people sitting around a table, at the head sits Gov. Cooper
Gov. Roy Cooper addresses the N.C Climate Change Interagency Council at its first meeting Wednesday. Photo credit: Greg Barnes

Susi Hamilton, secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, said climate change may be to blame for a 7,000-acre forest fire near Chimney Rock State Park and continual flooding in the parking lot for the Battleship North Carolina memorial.

Cabinet secretaries said they will develop strategies to combat climate change in the state. They also said their departments will do their part to conserve energy in buildings and use more zero-emission vehicles.

The council plans to meet six more times between now and November, spreading the meetings out to various parts of the state to give people the opportunity to be heard.

Jeremy Tarr, Cooper’s policy adviser on energy, the environment, transportation and natural resources, called the schedule to develop a clean energy plan aggressive.

What other states are doing in two years, North Carolina will do in about six months, he said.

About a dozen people, many from activist groups and nonprofit organizations, spoke to the council at the end of the meeting. Most commended Cooper’s order but urged him to go further by putting an end to construction on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, hydraulic fracturing of underground rocks to release natural gas (known as fracking), and the use of fossil fuels.

Lib Hutchby of Orange County asked people in the audience to stand if they are grandparents, then she and others in her group presented the council with a book, “The Lorax” by Dr. Suess, a children’s story about respecting the environment.

Cathy Holt, an environmental activist from Asheville, commended the council but asked how DEQ is going to play such a consequential role in the plans when its budget has been slashed and it is struggling to meet existing needs.

Correction: This story originally incorrectly stated the meeting was held at the Nature Resource Center at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

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Greg Barnes retired in 2018 from The Fayetteville Observer, where he worked as senior reporter, editor, columnist and reporter for more than 30 years. Contact him at: gregbarnes401 at

2 replies on “Gov. Cooper says it’s time to step up and fight climate change”

  1. I wish the article had mentioned that not everyone at the meeting agreed with Gov. Cooper’s goals. I was one of those who spoke, but this article didn’t mention my comments, advocating climate realism. These were my written remarks:

    I did a bit of on-the-fly trimming of my written remarks, as I spoke, to reduce the length. Here they are, edited to match my best recollection of what I actually said:

    I’m Dave Burton. I’m an IPCC Expert Reviewer, I’ve published in the academic literature on sea-level rise, I was appointed to the NC Sea Level Rise Impact Study Advisory Committee, I’m a member of the CO2 Coalition, a Board Member and Science Advisor to NC-20, and I created the web site, which has the best sea-level analysis tools on the Internet.

    The main obstacle to this Council doing constructive work is politics.

    Climate science is so politicized and commercialized that much of what you hear is nonsense.

    For instance, you’ve heard there’s a scientific consensus that CO2 emissions help warm the planet, and that’s true. But do you realize there’s NO consensus that it’s harmful?

    In fact, the best evidence is that manmade climate change is benign, and CO2 emissions are BENEFICIAL, for both mankind and natural ecosystems. I’m one of over 30,000 American scientists who’ve signed a “petition” attesting to that fact.

    CO2 is “plant food.” Some of you might remember when terrible famines were often in the news, in places like Bangladesh. Famine was one of the great scourges of humanity, the third Horseman of the Apocalypse.

    But famines are becoming rare, and one of the reasons is rising CO2 levels, which have increased worldwide agricultural productivity by about 20%.

    Those benefits are well-measured, by thousands of agricultural studies. The supposed harms are just hypothetical.

    Direct impacts of global warming are obviously negligible. We’re on track for at most about one degree of warming by 2100, probably less. That’s like moving about 70 miles south, or planting one week later.

    So folks promoting solar and wind boondoggles hype other supposed harms, like sea-level rise, or extreme weather, or polar bears. But those problems aren’t actually happening.

    CO2 has been rising steadily for 2/3 of a century, yet sea-level rise has NOT accelerated, hurricanes are NOT worsening, strong tornadoes actually DECLINED, and the polar bears are fine.

    We should NOT try to reduce carbon emissions. But there ARE things we SHOULD do.

    We should play to our strengths. NC State has a top-five nuclear engineering program, better than Georgia Tech, or ANY California school. We should support that work, and encourage development of innovative NUCLEAR power technologies, like thorium, and molten-salt reactors, for reliable, affordable base-load power generation, to free the world from its reliance on fossil fuels – which wind and solar can never do.

    If you have any questions, I’m available after the meeting, or call me anytime.

    Dave Burton
    Cary, NC

  2. Whether it’s mass deforestation in Brazil, or increasingly dry forests resulting in record-breaking deadly wildfires in California, and now even in B.C., or a myriad of other categories of large-scale toxic pollutant emissions and dumps, currently there’s discouragingly insufficient political gonad planet-wide to sufficiently address it.
    Maybe due to (everyone’s permanent spaceship) Earth’s large size, there seems to be a general obliviousness in regards to our natural environment, as though pollutants emitted out of exhaust and drainage pipes, or tall smoke stacks—or even the largest contamination events—can somehow be safely absorbed into the air, sea, and land (i.e. out of sight, out of mind). It may be the same mentality that allows the immense amount of plastic waste, such as disposable straws, to eventually find its way into our life-filled oceans, where there are few, if any, caring souls to see it. Indeed, it’s quite fortunate that the plastic waste doesn’t entirely sink out of sight to the bottom, like Albertan diluted bitumen crude oil (dilbit) spills, for then nothing may be done about it, regardless of divers’ reports of the awful existence of such plastic tangled messes. Also, it must be quite convenient for the fossil fuel industry to have such a large portion of mainstream society simply too exhausted and preoccupied with just barely feeding and housing their families on a substandard, if not below the poverty line, income to criticize the former for the great damage it’s doing to our planet’s natural environment and therefore our health, particularly when that damage may not be immediately observable.
    After all, why worry about such things immediately unseen, regardless of their most immense importance, especially when there are various undesirable politicians and significant social issues over which to dispute—distractions our mainstream news-media sadly are willing to sell us?
    Undoubtedly, to have almost everyone addicted to driving their own fossil-fuel-powered single occupant vehicle helps keep their collective mouths shut about the planet’s greatest and very profitable polluter, lest they feel like and/or be publicly deemed hypocrites.
    Although I have never (nor likely ever will) own and/or operate any form of motor vehicle, there are many green-minded people who rely upon their (probably very efficient) fossil-fuel powered cars since they haven’t had a monetarily feasible opportunity to acquire an electric vehicle. Also, I believe it’s no coincidence that the first thing upon his PC party’s election into office after a campaign won in part with a large political donation from the fossil fuel industry Premier Doug Ford canceled government rebate incentives for electric car buyers in Ontario.

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