Wilmington, North Carolina Riverwalk

The Riverwalk along the waterfront of the Cape Fear River in Wilmington, North Carolina. 

(The Center Square) — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order this week directing the Department of Administration to rework the state's floodplain management policy, a move he said is necessitated by climate change.

"Using foresight and data to protect public buildings and other structures from flood damage is smart and responsible," Cooper said on Monday. "Climate change is causing more intense storms and flooding so this update on floodplain management and construction requirements will save taxpayer money, protect structures and keep workers safer."

Executive Order 266 directs the Department of Administration to update building requirements for new state construction located in a floodplain and to develop requirements for new state buildings outside of a floodplain that are at risk of flooding.

The move stems from Cooper's 2020 North Carolina Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan, which recommends "the state evaluate the implication of increased risk associated with changes in climate patterns and adapt development policies and construction techniques to minimize the detrimental impacts," according to the order.

While the order won't have any significant impact on taxpayers because Cooper lacks budget power to fund the initiative, it serves as the latest reminder to residents of the governor's unrelenting focus on climate change, said Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst with the John Locke Foundation.

"It's not clear why Gov. Cooper needed an executive order to ask his own cabinet agency to look at state government building standards. One suspects that the order was designed to give the governor an excuse to make another public pronouncement linked to climate change," Kokai said. "That said, it probably is a good idea for the state to take a thorough look at policies last updated in 1990. Much has changed over the past three decades. It certainly can't hurt for officials to focus attention on standards that could help publicly owned buildings withstand weather-related challenges for decades to come."

Section 1 of EO 266 gives the North Carolina Department of Administration 18 months to update the state's Uniform Floodplain Management Policy, which was last updated by Gov. James Martin in 1990.

Cooper's order requires the policy to include a process and criteria for determining whether state construction projects are subject to the policy, and to create a process for determining whether construction is at flood risk.

Cooper also called for the policy to "implement measures to reduce construction in a floodplain to the greatest extent feasible," and to "set reasonably protective and cost-effective flood resilience standards for proposed construction" both inside and outside of a floodplain, based on risk.

Section 2 of EO 266 tasks the Department of Administration to consult with the other state departments, agencies and stakeholders to "analyze the effect of expanding the requirements of the policy beyond state-owned construction to also include state-funded construction," in terms of legal, financial, environmental, and regulatory implications.

"The analysis also shall address the financial impact to the state of not applying the policy to state-funded construction, including losses reasonably anticipated due to flooding," according to the order.

"Since this is an executive order, rather than legislation, there should be little to no immediate impact for taxpayers. But it will be important to watch how this review proceeds," Kokai said. "If the Department of Administration pushes for changes, it could become more expensive and time-consuming to build state government structures in the future.

"In that case, state lawmakers will have to weigh the costs of these changes against the potential long-term benefits. They will have to balance the need for safe, long-lasting buildings versus the public's need for efficient management of taxpayer dollars. This is a story that deserves to be tracked."