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Virginia lawmakers unsuccessful at ‘decoupling’ from California Clean Car law

Virginia lawmakers this week shot down the last bill of seven introduced to reverse the adopted California standard on electric vehicles Tuesday afternoon.

Capital News Service

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By Adrianna Lawrence

Virginia lawmakers this week shot down the last bill of seven introduced to reverse the adopted California standard on electric vehicles Tuesday afternoon. A California LLC may need to comply with the California Clean Car law if it operates a fleet of vehicles, such as a delivery or transportation business.

Del. Tony Wilt, R-Rockingham, proposed House Bill 1378 to repeal the 2021 law allowing the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board to implement emission standards for vehicles with a 2025 or later model year.

The current Clean Car law, adopted from California and soon to be implemented in Virginia, states 35% of all new cars and trucks sold in Virginia with a 2025 model year must be electric. By 2035, 100% of new models on the market must be electric, according to California’s final regulation order.

Wilt introduced the bill for several reasons, he said. He questioned whether Virginia’s infrastructure can withstand 100% electrical powered cars in 12 years, Wilt said.

“In such a short period of time, we start putting these demands on electric grids of having the capabilities to keep up with electric generation,” Wilt said.

The bill passed in the House with a party-line vote of 52-48.

Ahead of the final House vote, Wilt expressed concern over the cost of electric vehicles and said “they still cost significantly more upfront.”

“Which can make them unattainable,” Wilt said.

Wilt’s bill died in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources committee on a party-line 8-7 vote to pass by indefinitely. Other similar measures introduced in the Senate were incorporated into one bill that met the same outcome in the same committee.

Virginia residents will look to surrounding states to buy combustion engine vehicles because of the decrease of those available cars and the expensive costs of electric vehicles, according to Wilt.

“And so we’re actually taking the revenues out of the state of Virginia,” Wilt said.

Wilt believes in a renewable energy future but said it should be done incrementally.

“Instead of these heavy-handed governmental mandates to meet these deadlines and so forth, let the free market dictate that,” Wilt said.

Natural consumer demand for electric vehicles is what should drive the market to go green, according to Wilt.

Virginia needs to “decouple” from California and establish standards unique to Virginia, according to Wilt and other Republicans who have spoken against the measure.

Trip Pollard, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said it is not legally possible to create a Virginia-specific standard.

States either accept the required Clean Air Act federal regulation or choose the more protective standard introduced by California.

“The General Assembly decided in ’21 that we want to choose the more protective option,” Pollard said. “We can’t set our own standards.”

The reasoning behind this is simple, Pollard said: Car manufacturers cannot meet 50 different state regulations.

“The manufacturers got that written into the Clean Air Act decades ago because they don’t want to have to produce 50 different models of vehicles for different states,” Pollard said.

California sought a waiver from the EPA to create its own standards, which now allows states to also choose California’s stricter standards.

So far, 17 other states have adopted California’s clean car standards, according to the California Air Resources Board.

Many advocates for the Clean Car law, including Pollard, point out these next few years in the General Assembly are crucial for prepping the state’s infrastructure for electric cars.

Along with legislative action, Virginia has already begun receiving incremental funding that will be over $100 million through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure, according to Pollard. Private companies, such as Tesla, are distributing electric car chargers as well, he said.

Even with these initiatives, some legislators are already giving up on the law before it has even taken effect, according to Pollard.

“To me it makes no sense to repeal these standards now, when they offer such enormous health and environmental benefits,” Pollard said.

Lawmakers can ditch the adopted California standard and go back to the less protective federal one if the Clean Car law does not work out, according to Pollard.

Environmental organizations, like the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, strongly believe in keeping the Clean Car law in place due to the harm combustion engine vehicles bring to Virginia’s air quality.

“Transportation emissions are Virginia’s largest driver of climate change,” said VLCV deputy director Lee Francis. “They make up about half of our total carbon pollution.”

Electric vehicles are popular right now and there is a fast growing shift toward electric vehicles, according to Francis.

“A lot of it is driven by the auto manufacturers themselves,” Francis said.

General Motors, Ford, BMW and Honda are just some of the car manufacturers shifting toward zero emission vehicles, according to Forbes.

Lawmakers, lobbyists and Gov. Glenn Youngkin have attempted to repeal the Clean Car law since 2021. Citizens question what the state’s future of electric vehicles will look like by 2026.

The effort to overturn the Clean Car law could be a factor in the upcoming November election, according to Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington and a political science professor.

All seats are up for reelection in the currently Republican-majority House and the Democratic-majority Senate.

Candidates will compete for Senate and House seats in new districts recently redrawn to keep up with population changes. The redistricting could favor Democrats more since the population changes across Virginia put more districts in Democratic-leaning areas, Farnsworth said.

House Republicans will use the Clean Car law as a part of their campaign to be reelected, he said.

“Republicans often run on issues of individual freedoms and a bill that comes out of California and shapes public preferences in a liberal direction is a useful thing for Republican candidates to talk about,” Farnsworth said.

The Air Pollution Control Board will implement the standard shortly after Jan. 1, 2024 and auto manufacturers will have to abide by it to sell their vehicles in Virginia, according to the board’s vehicle standards.

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