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Energy Efficiency

Transportation Key to Emissions Reduction in North Carolina

Daniel Weiss

Tackling emissions in America will require a diversification of responsibilities. Not only do we need citizens to buy in on reducing their carbon footprint, but we also need the government and industry to reduce their pollution contributions. This struggle is all while maintaining a reliable energy supply despite a growing population. However, if we look at one problem at a time — car emissions, for example — the mountain suddenly feels more climbable. 

This philosophy is being put to practice all over the country, where tech corporations like Meta and Apple are beginning to self-govern by entering into renewable energy partnerships with local and regional providers. State governments are also shouldering more of the transportation-related emissions burden. It’s a happy marriage of responsibilities. Corporations work independently to reduce their environmental impact in response to changing market trends. Governments move the people along through regulatory changes and public awareness campaigns. 

Photo Courtesy Alexander Popov

For North Carolina, figuring out how to curb emissions from transportation is the name of the game. Even compared to private industry, transportation is the leading contributor in the state at 36% of all carbon emissions. Although one would expect this to decrease over time once electric vehicles become a more ubiquitous and cost-friendly option, many organizations remain unconvinced that this is a feasible future picture. In the meantime, reports like the one recently published by Electrification Roadmap indicate that a more aggressive emissions plan would benefit the state’s financial and environmental outlook. 

According to the report, North Carolina could gain as much as $150 billion in net societal benefit by 2050 through a more dynamic and structured transportation plan. The plan centers around the adoption of three significant policies: 

  1. Advanced Clean Cars II cracks down on car emissions while also requiring automotive manufacturers to sell an increased proportion of electric vehicles.
  2. The Advanced Clean Truck Rule (ACT) requires truck manufacturers to ramp up their sales of electric cars to at least 30% of all auto sales by 2030 and 40–70% by 2035.
  3. The NOx Omnibus Rule requires a 75% reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions in all engines sold by 2025 and a 90% reduction by 2027. 

These policies are already in place in several states, and North Carolina is primed to implement similar measures in the coming years. 

Photo Courtesy Mitchell Johnson

There is still much to do in the state beyond implementing legislation like the proposals described above. Government agencies like the state Department of Transportation (DoT) have been working tirelessly to spread awareness of the impact of commuter transport on North Carolina air levels.

One exciting DoT program is Commute Friendly NC, which works with businesses of all sizes to incentivize employees to opt for public transportation alternatives as part of their daily commutes. 

This is especially important in areas with surging economies, says Ryan Eldridge of Commute Friendly. “We’re seeing unprecedented growth in the Raleigh and Durham areas, and that’s contributing to traffic congestion, which obviously means more tailpipe emissions and worse air quality overall,” said Eldridge. 

One of the advantages of organizations like Commute Friendly is the invisible hand of the market that has emerged as a natural incentive for business buy-in. “We’re definitely playing into these businesses being environmentally-conscious and employee-conscious and wanting to be able to show that,” said Eldridge. He echoed the idea of employers adopting sustainable practices to attract workers. This philosophy is the core of the program’s entire approach, offering zero entry costs and a simple three-tier sustainability system complete with a DoT stamp of approval. 

Next on the docket for Eldridge and Commute Friendly is the continuation of several commuter projects in the state’s “triangle” area, allowing for a greater volume of public transportation options. Getting companies of all sizes on board will be easier once that infrastructure is a reality. Eldridge is optimistic about how attitudes are changing. “We want everybody to be able to have that conversation,” he said.    

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