Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, who is pushing an aggressive renewable energy plan, called President Donald Trump a "climate arsonist" this year. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) Joe Biden
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, who is pushing an aggressive renewable energy plan, called President Donald Trump a "climate arsonist" this year. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

What North Carolina stands to lose from climate change. And what Joe Biden and Roy Cooper say it stands to gain from investment in clean energy. 

When NC Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order in 2018 committing to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, it was, at the very least, a promise of something new. 

Given the grim warnings of climate scientists and the financial chaos it might cause, new is a start. 

Between the legislative wind power moratoriums, cuts to renewable energy tax credits, coal ash disposal and fracking, Cooper’s counterparts in the Republican-controlled NC General Assembly have struck a very different note on climate and the environment. 

And while Cooper’s campaign has not been heavily involved in Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s push in North Carolina—Cooper has been grappling with his own challenger, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, and the coronavirus for most of 2020—environmental policy offers one of the clearer linkages between the two candidates. 

RELATED: Cardinal Issues: How Climate and the Environment Factor in Four Key NC Senate Races

Gov. Roy Cooper
Gov. Roy Cooper speaking in Raleigh in 2020. Cooper issued an executive order in 2018 with a plan for a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. (Image via NC DPS pool photographer)

Cooper’s plan calls for a 70% reduction in electric utilities’ emissions in the next decade, an ambitious proposal in a state that headquarters Duke Energy, one of the nation’s largest utility companies.  The governor would also order “carbon neutrality” by 2050, meaning the state would offset its emissions. 

The candidates are fundamentally aligned on these issues, although Cooper’s calls, in many respects, are more modest than Biden’s plan. 

Among Biden’s key points:

  • The power sector should cut all emissions by the year 2035. Biden calls it a “clean energy revolution,” which is political speak, but It is, surely, one of the more ambitious climate plans issued by a candidate for the two major parties. Such a reduction would mean a significant increase in alternative forms of energy. North Carolina, already the second largest solar producer in the US, has much to gain here. 
  • Order that 40% of clean energy benefits be directed to disadvantaged communities.  There are lots of specifics to be worked out here. And these plans are all just that, plans. But this is a major nod to the myriad environmental injustices reported in the US, and North Carolina has more than its share. (Follow Lisa Sorg’s reporting at NC Policy Watch, because you’ll probably never see a more thorough accounting of that injustice anywhere.) Between the neighbors of NC’s leaking coal ash pits, unlined landfills and hog farms, there are plenty of folks who could make a most credible claim to environmental injustice, and those folks are disproportionately low-income North Carolinians of color. 
  • Spend $400 billion on clean energy research. The stakes couldn’t be higher for the world, not to mention the world’s economy. Given Cooper’s stated goal of a massive up-sizing in renewable energy production, the Democratic governor and the Democratic presidential candidate could find a lot of synergy here.

As Cardinal & Pine reported last month, some NC environmental advocates say they see promise in Biden’s plans. 

“We’ve got to get right on this,” Drew Ball of Environment NC told us. “And the Trump administration has put their heads in the sand and ignored the science. The failure to act is a huge crisis.”

Both Cooper and Biden’s opponents in the 2020 election, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and President Donald Trump, respectively, have questioned the validity of climate change science on multiple occasions. And, although Trump revoked his own orders to clear offshore drilling near states such as NC, the president has mostly dispensed with his plans for the environment while clearing away dozens of regulatory rules that he says are impeding businesses. 

Forest, meanwhile, has been criticized for continuing to push the use of fossil fuels to meet NC’s energy needs.