News | October 26, 2023

North Carolina promises to advance environmental justice

Governor Roy Cooper’s latest executive order calls for bold action to right environmental injustices
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signs Executive Order 292 at the Governor’s Mansion.

The United States has had an executive order calling for environmental justice for almost 30 years. Now, North Carolina has joined the nation in a path toward environmental repair, pollution prevention, and renewables innovation for the most underserved communities in the Tar Heel state.  

Governor Roy Cooper’s latest executive order, EO 292, provides an avenue for concerned North Carolinians to engage on EJ with more cabinet agencies than was previously possible. The order directs cabinet agencies to draft and publicize goals with measurable outcomes and includes a public comment process. 

EJ champions from across the state came together for the official signing of Executive Order 292.

“At SELC, we believe that everyone deserves to breathe healthy air, drink clean water, and live in thriving communities free from harmful pollution,” says Senior Attorney Chandra Taylor-Sawyer, leader of SELC’s Environmental Justice Initiative.  

But due to our region and nation’s history of racism and the systemic impacts it has on all facets of life, communities of color bear an outsized portion of environmental harms. So do people living in areas where income is below average. 

“Cabinet agency consideration of public health impacts in permitting is central to this order and the livelihoods of our communities,” adds Associate Attorney Jasmine Washington. 

The order also requires development of a new mapping tool that combines the efforts of several federal agencies — the Department of Environmental Quality’s existing EJ tool, a Department of Health and Human Services health dashboard, and the Department of Transportation’s EJ and Transportation Disadvantage Index Tool.  

Consideration of public health impacts in permitting is central to this order and the livelihoods of our communities.

jasmine washington, associate attorney

The new tool will also include ambient air quality data, demographic data, information on risk of climate stressors like flooding and sea level rise, and locations of sensitive receptors such as schools, nursing homes, and affordable housing communities. Understanding the cumulative impacts these communities are facing is critical to addressing them effectively. 

“This executive order directs a whole government approach that listens to communities that are suffering from pollution and the effects of climate change, and takes action to help them become safer, healthier, and more sustainable environments,” says Governor Cooper.

What is environmental justice?

Learn how SELC and our partners are building a more equitable future.