RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday highlighted efforts to transition North Carolina to more electric vehicles as state officials consider new rules aimed at increasing the number of zero-emissions vans, trucks and buses on the roads. 

Cooper spoke at an event in Raleigh organized by the non-profit Electrification Coalition focused on medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. Last month, Cooper signed an executive order that he said is aimed at speeding up the transition to more zero-emissions vehicles. 

“We know this is where the market is going,” Cooper said. “This is something that’s coming anyway. And, I think our challenge in North Carolina is to make sure we capture the full benefits of it.” 

The order calls on state officials to develop a new rule requiring manufacturers to sell zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles as an increasing percentage of their overall vehicle sales through 2035.

There would be “credits, trading and other features” available to manufacturers to comply. The rule would not apply to off-road vehicles including farm equipment, the governor’s office noted.

“The issue is how we can nudge it along in the right way to make sure we are sending the signal that North Carolina is the place for this,” said Cooper. 

The governor also noted that gas= and diesel-powered medium- and heavy-duty vehicles make up 3.2 percent of all registered vehicles in the state but account for 26 percent of nitrogen-oxide emissions and 32 percent of particulate matter. 

Cooper said, “I think the issue of climate change is important. And, we need to do our part. But, aside from that, even if you didn’t believe in that, even if you didn’t care about that, the economics of it are here. And, do we want to take part in that economy and put more money in people’s pockets or not?” 

Brian Balfour, senior vice president of research at the conservative John Locke Foundation, questioned the legality of Cooper’s order.  

“This is an attempt to dictate to automobile manufacturers and dealers across the state what they can and cannot sell,” Balfour said. “I don’t believe these rules will be implemented in large part because the state constitution is pretty clear that the governor does not have the authority to dictate these rules.” 

Cooper said the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality is still in the process of getting input and drafting the rule. The earliest it could be implemented is 2026, he said. 

State officials have been working to attract more businesses in the electric-vehicle industry, recently luring the Vietnamese EV manufacturer Vinfast to build in Chatham County and Toyota to build an electric-battery plant in Randolph County. 

“This is coming at us. These companies are changing as fast as they can and many of them fear getting behind,” said Cooper. 

Cooper also has set a goal in a previous executive order to increase the total number of zero-emission vehicles in North Carolina to be at least 1.25 million by 2030.  

“The biggest thing we’ve got to do right now for everyday people who may want to drive these vehicles is bring down the cost,” he said. 

The recent Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that Congress passed makes billions of dollars available to improve the network of charging stations, and the Inflation Reduction Act included tax credits aimed at making electric vehicles more affordable.  

“It’s going to start to incentivize that market as well. And, those are things where because of our policy suite in North Carolina, we’re really going to be in a leadership position to leverage those incentive opportunities,” said Ben Prochazka, executive director of the Electrification Coalition. “We have to rapidly accelerate that market transition.”