North Carolina’s Democratic Governor Is Ignoring Black and Native Communities

“Every time I hear ‘renewable gas,’ it pisses me off, man,” Jones said. “When you look at the whole process that they’re using with those digesters and see what little methane that they’re extracting while a huge volume is going into the air—it’s bullshit, excuse my language. It’s just a travesty. These people can’t even go to their house, take refuge in their homes, in their churches. But somebody else is making a decision that’s affecting their lives and just doing it at the stroke of a pen.”

Last Thursday, according to Muhammad, after members in her New Bern community requested a direct meeting with Cooper to discuss the ways they would be affected by the legislation’s explicit approval of biogas operations, Cooper’s office instead dispatched a representative to meet with the Environmental Justice Network and several allied organizations. The groups, as well as the community members who joined, were irked that Cooper “didn’t have the nerve to show up,” Muhammad said. At the meeting, they called the Farm Act a “death warrant,” in Muhammad’s words. “[Cooper] ran on the environmental justice platform, but he’s not living up to it at all,” Muhammad concluded. “He’s selling us down the drain.”

In response to The New Republic’s request for comment, Ford Porter, spokesperson for Governor Cooper, wrote in an email, “The RGGI petition is one option the state can use to get to net zero carbon emissions while creating funding for important environmental justice issues that affect marginalized communities.” Regarding the Farm Act, which Porter acknowledged as including “some concerning provisions,” he cited the bill’s bipartisan support in the General Assembly, adding that “the Governor signed it to provide certainty and resources for one of North Carolina’s most important industries.”

It’s easy to write Cooper a pass for any one of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, RGGI, or Farm Act decisions. Dealing with a Republican-held General Assembly as oppositional as this one—only a month ago, it bizarrely spiked Cooper’s pick to head the state Department of Environmental Quality—makes Cooper’s job as governor difficult; he must pick his battles, in terms of when to deploy his veto and leverage his power and influence. Yet each of these policies could be counted among the most important decisions for the state’s near- and long-term climate future since he took office. And it’s for this reason that, when taken together, it becomes difficult to ignore the pattern being established by Cooper. While the RGGI may seem like a symbolic step toward coordinated climate policy, for Black, Latinx, Native, and poor communities in the state it also represents the continued sidelining of environmental justice issues in the governor’s broader agenda.

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