GOP leaders want to untie Virginia from California EV rule

FILE - An electric car charging station is positioned outside the Science Museum where Virginia State Senators are meeting for their 2021 legislative session in Richmond, Va., Feb. 18, 2021. Virginia is currently on a path toward adopting California’s new, stringent rules for transitioning to zero-emission vehicles because of 2021 legislation that involved adopting the West Coast state’s emissions standards. That's according to attorneys and state officials who weighed in after California regulators adopted the new rules Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

RICHMOND, Va. — Republican leaders in Virginia said they want to change the law so the state no longer follows California’s stringent rules for vehicle emissions. 

Virginia is currently on a path toward adopting California’s new rules for transitioning to zero-emission vehicles because of 2021 legislation that involved adopting the West Coast state’s emissions standards, attorneys and state officials said this week. The legislation, intended to help address climate change, was a top priority of environmental advocates and passed at a time when Democrats were in full control of Virginia’s government. 

But Republicans in the House of Delegates, who opposed the legislation and now control that chamber, and GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin said Friday they would push to unlink Virginia’s standards. 

“House Republicans will advance legislation in 2023 to put Virginians back in charge of Virginia’s auto emission standards and its vehicle marketplace. Virginia is not, and should not be, California,” House Speaker Todd Gilbert said in a statement. 

Youngkin said he was “already at work to prevent this ridiculous edict from being forced on Virginians.” 

California regulators approved a plan requiring all new cars, trucks and SUVs sold in the state to run on electricity or hydrogen by 2035, with one-fifth allowed to be plug-in hybrids. The policy doesn’t ban cars that run on gas, allowing drivers to keep their existing cars or buy used ones. 

The policy approved by the California Air Resources Board is the world’s most stringent set of rules for transitioning to electric vehicles. It will require new charging infrastructure and a more robust energy grid, and is likely to reshape the U.S. auto market. 

Virginia is among 17 states that have adopted some or all of California’s tailpipe emission standards that are stricter than federal rules. California, the nation’s most populous state, has had the authority to set its own for decades under a waiver from the federal Clean Air Act. 

Victoria LaCivita, a spokeswoman for Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares, said in a statement that the 2021 law bound Virginia to California’s regulations and that Miyares is hopeful the General Assembly repeals it. 

Environmental attorneys also agreed that under current law, Virginia would have to get in line with California. 

That’s a good thing, said Walton Shepherd, Virginia policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He called the 2021 “clean cars” bill the “single biggest climate action” Virginia has undertaken. Federal data show the transportation sector is Virginia’s largest source of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. 

“It’s a really great development for consumers, relief from high gas prices and clean air,” he said of the new rules. 

Trip Pollard, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said automakers prioritize sending their electric vehicles to states that have adopted California’s standards, meaning better “consumer choice” for drivers who want an EV. 

Pollard said it was “unfortunate” but not surprising that Republicans wanted to undo the law, given that they tried unsuccessfully to do so earlier this year. 

“We certainly will be arguing strongly to members of both parties that this is something Virginia should stick with,” he said. 

Democrats control the state Senate by a single vote. A caucus spokesperson had no immediate comment Friday beyond noting that every Democratic senator supported the bill in 2021.