North Carolina Moves to Electrify Trucks and Buses, Gaining Economic and Environmental Advantages

Governor Cooper's executive order accelerates the transition of medium and heavy-duty trucks and buses from dirty diesel to zero-tailpipe emissions.

Stan Cross | October 26, 2022 | Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Energy Policy, North Carolina

On Tuesday, October 25, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order to grow the state’s clean energy economy by supporting the market-driven transition to zero-emission trucks and buses. Executive Order 271 directs the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to begin the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) rulemaking process that would ensure zero-emission trucks and buses are available for purchase in the state. The ACT rule is designed to reduce the costs of zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (MHDVs) and further develop the market for these vehicles.

Initiating ACT rulemaking is a big deal because electrifying medium- and heavy-duty vehicles will deliver significant economic, public health, and climate benefits to North Carolina and its citizens. For the past two years, advocates, including SACE, have teamed up with businesses to push for ACT adoption. Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 271 accelerates truck and bus electrification and comes on the heels of the existing commitment to getting 1.25 million light-duty electric vehicles (EVs) registered on the state’s roads by 2030; both commitments have massive economic implications for the state.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announces Executive Order 271 on October 25, 2022. Source: Stan Cross, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The ACT rule focuses on electrifying medium and heavy-duty vehicles (Class 2b-8), which make up only 3.2% of North Carolina’s registered vehicle fleet, yet emit 26% of smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide emissions, 32% of Particulate Matter, and a significant portion of other hazardous air pollutants from total on-road vehicle traffic in the state.

The ACT program would apply to vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating that is equal to or greater than 8,500 pounds, covering a variety of vehicles ranging from:

  • Delivery vans
  • Box trucks
  • Garbage trucks
  • School buses
  • Semi tractors
Source: NESCAUM Multi-state medium- and heavy-duty zero-emission vehicle action plan.

The rule requires that truck and bus manufacturers sell an increasing percentage of new zero-emission trucks and buses through 2035, establishing a tiered set of requirements based on the type of vehicle: beginning in 2024, manufacturers must increase their zero-emission truck sales to between 30-50% by 2030 and 40-75% by 2035. ACT does not place regulations on existing diesel trucks and buses.

Economic Benefits

The global EV market is growing rapidly, and North Carolina is positioned to lead. North Carolina ranks third in the Southeast in electric vehicle and battery manufacturing investments and jobs, having secured $3.3 billion and the promise of 9,430 jobs in the twelve months from July 2021-June 2022 alone. Electrifying diesel trucks and buses will spur investments and job opportunities across manufacturing and supply chain sectors while deploying the needed charging infrastructure will be a boon for electrical contractors.

Additionally, because the state imports 100% of the gas and diesel that its cars, trucks, and buses consume, it loses money daily. Two-thirds of every dollar spent at the pump leaves the state and goes towards oil-rich states and countries. If all North Carolina’s cars, trucks, and buses were electric today, the state would have a $7.7 billion boost to the annual economy in savings from not buying imported gas and diesel.

EO 271 also positions North Carolina well for accessing the billions of competitive federal dollars flowing through the Bipartisan Infrasture Law and the Inflation Reduction Act by demonstrating the state’s commitment to implementing those dollars efficiently, effectively, and equitably. Federal funds will support vehicle procurement and deployment of the charging infrastructure needed to operate electric trucks and buses confidently. However, competition among states will be fierce; ACT adoption will give North Carolina an advantage.

Governor Roy Cooper and advocates, including Stan Cross of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, celebrate the signing of Executive Order 271 beside a zero-emission electric bus on October 25, 2022. Photo courtesy of Cornell Watson.

Public Health

EO 271 also commits the state to ensure truck and bus electrification priorities and actions disproportionality benefit the communities impacted most by pollution. Diesel trucks and buses are the dirtiest vehicles on the road, emitting toxic tailpipe pollution that worsens asthma and other cardio-respiratory illnesses, triggers heart attacks and strokes, and leads to other adverse health impacts. Children and older adults are at the highest risk, especially those living in communities near highways, ports, fleet garages, warehouses, and other distribution hubs — which, because of decades of unjust and often racist transportation planning and policies, are often communities of color and lower income. Thus, eliminating tailpipe emissions is an environmental justice and health equity priority.

In EO 271, state Cabinet agencies must prioritize strategies that further environmental justice and health equity to ensure transportation electrification efforts result in improved health outcomes for communities impacted worst by air pollution. The order also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to research and publish a report on the state’s health and environmental justice impacts of transportation-related air pollutants and include environmental justice metrics in its health-tracking dataset.

Climate Change

North Carolina’s transportation sector currently accounts for one-third of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The state has committed to decarbonizing the transportation and power generation sector, including writing into law the requirement that the state’s investor-owned utilities reduce carbon emissions 70% below 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The latter has resulted in the development of a state carbon plan that is in its final stages of completion. An electric car, truck, or bus operating in North Carolina today already achieves a 60% reduction in carbon emissions and will get cleaner every day as the electricity powering them gets cleaner by law. As a result, the potential climate benefits of switching from gas and diesel cars, trucks, and buses to EVs are massive.

However, to realize potential climate benefits, fleets need to buy electric trucks and buses instead of gas and diesel. EO 271 will help make that happen. Though more than 150 zero-emission truck and bus models are expected to be commercially available by 2023, supply will be limited and focused in states where the policy conditions support the market. Adopting ACT will signal to medium and heavy-duty manufacturers that North Carolina is committed to supporting electric truck and bus sales. The sales opportunities will make the state a business development priority, thus increasing the availability and access to EVs for the state’s businesses and fleets, enabling the public and private sectors to achieve their transportation decarbonization goals, which adds up to support the state’s achievement.

The climate crisis demands urgent and strategic actions like ACT adoption. SACE cheers Governor Cooper’s directive advancing medium and heavy-duty vehicle electrification and will continue to support the work ahead. SACE also commends the Governor’s acknowledgment of the unequal and unjust impacts of transportation pollution on the State’s communities of color and other under-resourced and overburdened groups. Transitioning the transportation sector to EVs gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to right historical wrongs and create a future where all North Carolinians have access to clean air.

Electrify the South​ is a Southern Alliance for Clean Energy program that leverages research, advocacy, and outreach to promote renewable energy and accelerate ​the ​equitable ​transition to ​electric transportation throughout the Southeast. Visit to learn more and connect with us.

Stan Cross
Stan joined the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in 2019. Stan leads SACE’s electric transportation policy, utility reform, and program implementation across the Southeast. Previously, Stan led and co-founded Brightfield…
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