Attorney General Roy Cooper plans to be part of the solution to problems North Carolina faces, from the environment to education to the dynamic of the political arena.
Cooper discussed his priorities for the future during a May 21 North Carolina League of Conservation Voters reception at Courtyard Wilmington Downtown.
“I’m deeply concerned about what this legislature and governor have done regarding our air and water. They have come in and eliminated numerous environmental safeguards. They’ve cut back those who inspect and ensure that our water and air is protected. You see from this coal ash spill [in the Dan River]the kind of things that can happen if you don’t pay enough attention,” Cooper said during a May 21 interview.
Cooper said sometimes political decisions must be considered from an ethical and an economic perspective. He concedes that the economic benefits of clean air and water might not be immediate, but they are important.
“You have to look at long-term economic consequences and costs too. You have to look at what’s going to be the ultimate cost of dirty water that people can’t drink. … I think it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s an economic investment as well,” Cooper said.
Cooper suggested clean air and water hold an especially important role in economic development in coastal areas affected by tourism, like Wilmington.
“We’re in one of the greatest tourism spots in the world, right here in Wilmington, and we need to make sure we protect our natural resources for our kids and grandkids, so it can continue to be an economic asset for the future of our state,” Cooper said.
Cooper has long been an environmental champion. Before the four-term attorney general took office in 2001, he served in the state senate and house. Carrie Clark, executive director of the league, commended Cooper on his record of addressing concerns with positive change.
“He has a good, strong history of representing the environment. He was instrumental in the Clean Smokestacks [Act] and cleaning up our air,” Clark said.
Cooper addressed rumors of a 2016 gubernatorial race during his visit to Wilmington.
“It’s too early to make an official announcement. I’m certainly making plans. I’m deeply concerned about the direction North Carolina is headed. I want to make sure we’re moving forward. I think we’ve turned the clock back,” Cooper said.
One of Cooper’s concerns is how recent policy decisions have changed outside perceptions of North Carolina.
“I’m concerned about our national brand, how we appear to the rest of the country and the world, and how that affects our economic development,” Cooper said.
Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to run for reelection. Former N.C. Rep. Kenneth Spaulding has also confirmed a bid for the governor’s mansion in 2016.
Cooper said education would also be a priority in a 2016 campaign, as it is now.
“Public education is one of the critical issues facing our state right now,” Cooper said. “I hope the General Assembly and the governor listen and take action. We need a concrete plan to get our teachers [pay]back to the national average within the next few years.”
Cooper suggested education, like environmental stewardship, yields a positive economic impact over time.
“When you think about the value of public education to our state, not only does it improve quality of life, it creates ladders of opportunity for people. It is an economic engine for our state,” Cooper said.