Where the Candidates Stand On Energy: Democratic Nominee for North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper

In this blog, we examine the policies and position of Roy Cooper, the current Governor and Democratic nominee for North Carolina's Governor. Also in this series we profile Dan Forest, the current Lieutenant Governor and Republican nominee for North Carolina's Governor. 

Guest Blog | August 11, 2020 | Elections, Energy Policy, North Carolina

This post is part of a series of blogs examining where 2020 Southeastern candidates for state and federal offices stand on key energy and climate issues. Note: The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy does not support or oppose candidates or political parties. Links to reports, candidate websites, and outside sources (such as this response tracker on science-related policy questions from NC State) are provided as citizen education tools.


In this blog, we examine the policies and position of Roy Cooper, the current Governor and Democratic nominee for North Carolina’s Governor. Also in this series we profile Dan Forest, the current Lieutenant Governor and Republican nominee for North Carolina’s Governor.

Prior to his election as governor, Cooper served as Attorney General for North Carolina from 2001 through 2016, and before that he served in both the North Carolina State House and State Senate as well as in private law practice. Cooper graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a Bachelor’s degree and earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of North Carolina School of Law.

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

In October 2018, Cooper announced Executive Order 80: North Carolina’s Commitment to Address Climate Change and Transition to a Clean Energy Economy. This order (EO80) lays out a series of goals for the state to strive to accomplish by 2025 including:

  • Reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 2005 levels
  • Increase the number of registered, zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) to at least 80,000
  • Reduce energy consumption per square foot in state-owned buildings by at least 40% from fiscal year 2002-2003 levels

In addition, EO80 creates the Climate Change Interagency Council to help the cabinet agencies work together to achieve those goals.

As a vocal proponent of renewable energy which he sees as a lever to encourage job growth, Cooper signed a 2017 bill (HB 589) promoting solar energy and simultaneously issued an executive order encouraging wind-power development to counter the 18-month moratorium on wind projects that was included in the final version of the bill.

“A strong renewable energy industry is good for our environment and our economy,” Cooper said in a statement upon signing the bill. “This bill is critical for the future of significant increases in our already booming solar industry. I strongly oppose the ugly, last-minute, politically motivated wind moratorium. However, this fragile and hard-fought solar deal will be lost if I veto this legislation and that veto is sustained.”

At a wind energy conference hosted in late 2019, Cooper noted it’s time to end legislative battles over wind energy and make sure it’s a part of North Carolina’s clean energy system: “Part of that future needs to be wind — particularly offshore wind. I would veto any kind of wind moratorium, and I believe that any veto can be sustained. There’s now enough political will across the aisle to fend off the negative things,” noted Cooper.

Climate Change

Cooper has testified before the U.S. Congress on North Carolina’s climate challenges and, in the weeks following Hurricane Florence, issued Executive Order 80 (see above) in order to combat climate change and lessen the impact of future natural disasters. If fully implemented, EO80 will put North Carolina on a path toward eliminating carbon emissions from the power sector by mid-century.

Previously, in his role as Attorney General, Cooper advised against joining a challenge to the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which directs states to develop plans to decrease carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation. Cooper noted that challenging the plan “will risk North Carolina’s well-deserved reputation for protecting the quality of our air, recruiting businesses that produce cutting-edge technologies and offering leadership around the world on energy issue.” Against this advice, North Carolina did join the challenge and was one of 28 states, power companies, and industry groups that argued against the plan in a federal appeals court back in 2016.

Electric Transportation

As part of EO80 (see above), Cooper is aiming for 80,000 electric vehicles to be on North Carolina’s roads by 2025 as one way to lower the state’s overall carbon emissions to 40% of 2005 levels by that same year.

Under his administration, the North Carolina Department of Transportation:

  1. Announced plans to build a network of electric vehicle charging stations along state highways funded with a portion of the $92 million that North Carolina will receive from the Volkswagen Settlement.
  2. Proposes a tax credit of $7,500 for electric vehicle purchases, and
  3. Has identified more than 500 vehicles in its fleet that it could replace with electric vehicles.

Energy Equity and Energy Burden

In March 2020, Cooper issued Executive Order 142 to prevent utilities from turning off gas, power, and water for nonpayment due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic noting that “Those families are facing severe financial hardship. So, I think this executive order was very important to be able to protect them.” The order, which was extended in May when it first expired, also waived accrued interest and late fees on unpaid balances and gives residents six months to pay outstanding costs.

In July 2020, Cooper appointed members to the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force (established by the Governor’s Executive Order 143) to address the social, environmental, economic, and health disparities in communities of color that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

High-Risk Energy (Coal, Nuclear, Oil, Gas)

Under the Cooper Administration, North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued an order to excavate and close all remaining coal ash ponds in April 2019. In response to that Order, Cooper said, “This is a strong order that follows the science and prioritizes clean water and public health. We’ve seen the damage this pollution can do including the families who had to live for years on bottled water until we were able to get them connected to permanent water solutions. Now the cleanup of remaining coal ash needs to move ahead efficiently and effectively.”

Cooper did support the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline fracked gas project; however, when its developers announced its cancellation in July 2020, Cooper issued this statement in response, “This decision and the changing energy landscape should lead to cleaner and more reliable energy generation in North Carolina. Our Clean Energy Plan provides an excellent framework and stakeholder process for renewable energy moving forward.” Prior to this cancellation, it should be noted that environmental activists in North Carolina have been frustrated with Cooper’s positions or perceived lack of action against pipelines and hydraulic fracturing.

As governor, Cooper joined with a bipartisan group of governors to urge the U.S. Commerce and Interior Secretaries to prohibit harmful seismic testing and offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean noting, “Seismic testing opens the door to offshore drilling that threatens an entire way of life along our coast. North Carolina’s economy, environment and unique coastal communities are too valuable to put at risk with little potential for long-term gain.”

UPDATE: On September 15, Cooper sent a letter to President Trump urging him and his administration to include North Carolina in the recently announced moratorium on oil drilling for the next 10 years. On Sept. 8, Trump announced a presidential order to extend the moratorium on offshore drilling on Florida’s Gulf Coast and expanding it to Florida’s Atlantic Coast, as well as the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina.

If you are interested in learning more about where your state’s candidates for federal and state office stand on energy, click here to access the entire 2020 blog series. We encourage readers to register to vote well before registration deadlines, which are in early October but vary by state, and vote in the general election on or before November 3, 2020. For voting information in North Carolina, including updates about the impact of COVID-19 on voting, click here. Stay tuned for more posts in this series to come!



This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

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