by Jon Sanders
Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies, John Locke Foundation
My previous brief discussed Gov. Roy Cooper’s sweeping executive order to change the state’s entire economy and state senators’ letter questioning it. The Cooper administration didn’t challenge the senators’ repeated point that the order lacked the force of law. This brief discusses Cooper’s plans to change transportation in the state, the senators’ questions about it, and how the Cooper administration chose to respond.
One of the two “North Carolina Goals” Cooper stated in his order was the following:
b. Increase the total number of registered, ZEVs [zero-emissions vehicles] to at least 1,250,000 by 2030 and increase the sale of ZEVs so that 50 percent of in-state sales of new vehicles are zero-emission by 2030.
Does the governor have the power to order the sales of a particular type of car to the neglect of other market choices? No. Did the governor’s order give indication as to how he would accomplish getting 1.25 million electric vehicles (EVs) registered in North Carolina and choke off sales of other vehicles such that EVs would make up at least half of new car sales? Not really.
The order requires a Rube Goldberg machine of officious central planning. The governor gives his bureaucrats 15 months in which the state Department of Transportation will work with the Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Commerce, “and other relevant agencies” to develop a “North Carolina Clean Transportation Plan,” which they will hand over to the governor’s “Climate Council,” who will then submit it to the governor.
This plan must “recommend actionable strategies, with an emphasis on near-term action.” Those strategies must address:
That’s a lot of near-term action items, but what they mean is this:
The governor’s next directive to bureaucrats would “focus on transitioning Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles to ZEVs, informed by North Carolina’s participation in the Multi-State Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero-Emission Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding.”
What is that? The governor wants to turn all buses and trucks that operate in North Carolina to EVs. The governor signed a pact with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, you see. That’s the “Multi-State Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero-Emission Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding” referenced as if it were some outside force that can actually supersede constitutionally enacted North Carolina law.
It can’t. And it’s an “understanding” shared by only 13 other states and the District of Columbia: Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
But regulating by this pact could deal a devastating blow especially to trucking and shipping in North Carolina. California law based in this same extremism bears a lot of responsibility for “Containergeddon,” with its emissions regulations forbidding half the trucks in America from operating in California, even though its ports are the most convenient for shipments from Asia. Those ill-thought regulations created a notorious bottleneck. Other states’ port cities could eventually help smooth the problem after infrastructure improvements, including Wilmington, unless Cooper repeats California’s folly while neighboring states of Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida don’t.
In their letter, Sens. Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell), Tom McInnis (R-Richmond), and Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) had several questions for Cooper about practicalities. They centered on how the state would pay for road maintenance with such a large influx of cars that wouldn’t pay the gasoline excise tax. Would he issue his own order or seek legislation to “make up the road maintenance revenue that would be lost”? Does he think it’s fair EV owners don’t pay for road upkeep, and if so, why?
They also wanted to know how the governor expects EV recharging stations to come about, and if not by “natural market growth,” then what would he recommend?
The response from the governor’s Clean Energy Director, Dionne Delli-Gatti, mostly avoided answering the questions. Where it didn’t merely restate the premise, the Cooper administration’s response served up bromides and campaign rhetoric.
They included saying now is the time for “planning for the oncoming transformation of transportation” (restating the premise) because “the market is rapidly shifting toward electric vehicles” (rhetoric already falsified by the order’s complaint about “current market projections”) and then a great deal of campaign rhetoric about new jobs and the Toyota incentives. Then there was a bit about the state becoming a “leader” and “open for business in the modern economy” (bromides), which is a “shift” that needs “a hard look at our existing infrastructure and plan to transition to future needs” (restating the premise).
But don’t worry, because “It has been Governor Cooper’s Executive Orders that have sparked administrative, legislative, and private sector change in North Carolina’s emerging clean energy economy” (campaign rhetoric, and a doozy). Still “the legislature will need to make some difficult decisions on transportation infrastructure” (restating the premise). The transition “must benefit residents across the state, including those in rural communities, low-income households, and communities of color” (bromide) and “be carefully implemented through meaningful engagement with businesses, local governments, advocates, and the general public” (bromide) to be “fair, least-cost, and economically sustainable” (bromide, which is why it could toss in “least-cost”). It then restated the premise about all the bureaucracies coming up with a Clean Transportation Plan.
The closest the Cooper response came to answering a question is regarding EV recharging stations. It stated that “the state is working with the federal government and private sector” including “distribution of funds from the VW settlement and the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” to “expand the availability of charging infrastructure throughout the state.” It wasn’t a direct answer — “No, the government is going to have to pay for building recharging stations to accompany what we just told you was a rapid market shift to electric vehicles” — because perhaps it was obvious even to them how silly that would sound.
The next brief will discuss other issues caused by Cooper’s “legally unenforceable” order.