State and federal initiatives can work in parallel to address climate change and advance the clean energy economy
As the Jan. 30 News & Record editorial, “Rebuilding EPA,” pointed out, North Carolina’s own Michael Regan has his work cut out for him in Washington. As EPA administrator, Regan will join President Biden and the new Congress in tackling a long list of daunting challenges. Our leaders must rise to meet the urgent need for job creation and economic revitalization, while also tackling climate change and racial injustice. If addressed in parallel at both state and national levels, the economic and environmental benefits will be significant.
Over the last four years of the Trump administration, states have stepped up to the climate challenge by making commitments to slash pollution in line with the Paris climate agreement. A recent analysis, however, shows that the states are not on track to deliver on these commitments. The Biden administration can bolster states' efforts, delivering deeper and faster reductions than if either acted alone. The new administration has a unique chance to power up the economy with renewable energy and a cleaner transportation system. Investment in these sectors can reduce the pollution that causes climate change, and make our air safer to breathe — especially in communities that have long borne the brunt of our nation’s pollution legacy.
Before COVID-19 hit, the clean energy sector had already established a proven track record of creating jobs and boosting local economies. The latest jobs report shows more than 112,000 North Carolinians were employed by clean energy and clean transportation jobs here. With the right policies in place, clean energy can help North Carolina’s economy recover and build back better. Turning Gov. Roy Cooper’s Clean Energy Plan into ambitious action can — like the vaccine itself — be a huge shot in the arm for the state’s economy.
To curb the worst impacts from climate change, we’ll need to move forward quickly with our Clean Energy Plan’s recommendations to help slash climate-warming pollution. Time is of the essence if North Carolina hopes to meet our goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 2005 levels and putting 80,000 zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) on the roads — all by 2025. North Carolina’s cities and towns are taking an active role, too. In Winston-Salem, for example, the City Council set a goal of being a 50% clean energy city by 2030, and powered by 100% clean energy by 2050. Dozens of municipalities across our state have set similar goals.
Moving in parallel, national initiatives driven by President Biden should help bolster our state-level efforts. By transitioning to zero-polluting trucks, buses, cars and clean power, the new administration is positioning America as a global leader in a quickly growing market, while creating millions of jobs. Add to this the potential for ramping up solar, battery storage and offshore wind, together with its accompanying manufacturing supply chain opportunities, and North Carolina stands to welcome a bounty of new jobs and investment.
In addition to boosting our economy, cleaner transportation and power systems will also create gains in public health and equity. Black, Asian and Latino communities suffer from higher levels of harmful air pollution in large part because of their proximity to key transportation and logistics hubs, a result of historic discrimination in housing and other areas. A well-designed plan for both cleaner transportation and clean power, enacted with community involvement, can greatly improve health justice.
There is overwhelming public support for these common sense policies according to a new poll. Over seven in 10 voters, including over six in 10 Republicans, say they support creating jobs by updating our infrastructure and reducing pollution. And large majorities also believe it’s important to increase production of electric buses, trucks and cars, and support investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
These goals are within our reach, in part because the market is finally realizing the public has made its choice. General Motors recently committed to being carbon neutral by 2040, and producing and selling only zero-emission light duty vehicles by 2035. Volvo, one of the biggest companies in the truck business with an important presence in Greensboro, has set a goal of all zero-emission sales in the U.S. and elsewhere by 2040. And demand is also increasing from major fleet owners, with PepsiCo, DHL, Amazon, Walmart and other major brands moving to adopt zero-emissions vehicles.
It will require strong leadership from Washington and state governors, including Cooper, to reach our goals in the timeframe science requires. We’ll need to work with frontline communities to ensure that this swift move to a clean economy works for everyone: Policymakers need to pass supportive policies to ensure a fair transition for fossil fuel workers and communities.
Cleaning up our transportation and power sectors is a pro-jobs, pro-health and pro-climate policy. Let’s get to work.