Governor Says Virginia Is Exiting Clean Car Commitment

Governor Says Virginia Is Exiting Clean Car Commitment

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyaress (R): “EV mandates like California’s are unworkable and out of touch with reality, and thankfully, the law does not bind us to their regulations.”

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyaress (R): “EV mandates like California’s are unworkable and out of touch with reality, and thankfully, the law does not bind us to their regulations.”

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) has no interest in a roadmap to a zero-emission future for vehicles in Virginia. Youngkin cites Attorney General Jason Miyares’ official opinion, which "confirms that Virginians are no longer legally bound to follow the emission standards of California.” 

Walton Shepherd, senior attorney and Virginia director at Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “Youngkin is a governor, not a king. In a nation of laws, no one person can unilaterally halt a democratically passed and signed law. This is outrageous. Youngkin tried and failed three times to get his allies to repeal the Clean Cars law, but the legislature rightly stood firm on the side of public health and cleaner air. Now he’s trying to bail out out-of-state big oil interests by going against the will of the people.”

The Sierra Club Virginia Chapter agreed, saying in a release on June 5: “The response is despite the standards being adopted and twice reaffirmed by the Virginia General Assembly. … If upheld, the decision will restrict Virginians’ choice because auto manufacturers prioritize delivery of EVs to states that have adopted ACCII [Advanced Clean Cars II].”

In 2021, Virginia approved legislation signed by then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to adopt California’s Clean Cars standard. The California Air Resource Board announced its “ride to zero emissions,” adopting the new Advanced Clean Cars II regulations (ACC II) during its hearing on Aug. 25, 2022, which made the regulations more stringent.

At the June 5 videoed press conference, Youngkin said Miyares performed “amazing work” in finding that he could circumvent compliance with clean cars. Youngkin said that Virginia will exit California’s electric vehicle mandate at the end of this year, “ending once and for all the California electric vehicle mandate in Virginia” [minute 30:57 YouTube video]. Miyares wrote in his AG Opinion, “EV mandates like California’s are unworkable and out of touch with reality, and thankfully, the law does not bind us to their regulations. California does not control which cars Virginians buy.”

But the standards were adopted in Virginia, in order to give Virginia car buyers more choices. Scott Surovell wrote that, “Governor Youngkin’s reckless attempt to unilaterally undo Virginia’s Clean Cars law is an autocratic and unlawful action that will hurt everyday Virginians and set our state back.” The Senate majority leader offered this background: “The General Assembly and Governor Ralph Northam adopted Virginia’s Clean Car Law in 2021 at the request of Virginia automobile dealerships who lacked access to a consistent supply of affordable electric vehicles. Fifteen other states had already joined a multi-state compact which caused manufacturers to send most electric vehicles to other states so they could meet sales quotas. One purpose of the law was to provide Virginia consumers with more electric vehicle choices at lower prices so that they could enjoy the same choices and prices as other states.”

California is the only state permitted to create emissions standards under the federal Clean Air Act and the first state to ban the sale of internal combustion vehicles. California is legally capable of setting stricter and different standards than federal standards. The Clean Air Act of the United States Environmental Protection Agency allows other states to adopt California's motor vehicle emission standards under Section 177. Among other requirements, federal Section 177 mandates that these standards match the California standards that have received a waiver, so other states’ regulations change along with California’s.

Youngkin said consumers could purchase whatever they liked — electric, hybrid, or gas — under his plan. “To be clear, I don't have anything against electric vehicles. But when today nine percent of automobiles in Virginia that are purchased are electric vehicles to turn around and mandate that 35 percent of them have to be electric vehicles, imposes an extraordinary economic burden on our dealers and on Virginians.” [35:15] 

An account in California’s Gov. Newsroom on Aug. 25, 2022, confirms “yearly targets” as “35 percent ZEV sales by 2026, 68 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2035.” Twenty percent of sales can be plug-in hybrids that run on batteries and gas. California’s policy does not ban cars that run on gas. People can keep their existing gas cars or buy used gas powered vehicles.

What speakers, like Dave Perno, at the press conference discussed, as well as what was quoted by others in a Friday, June 7 press release by the Governor’s Office, was that Virginians deserve the freedom to choose which vehicles best fit the needs of their families, businesses, and the community’s economy. 

Perno, president of Loyalty Automotive in Chester, Virginia, emphasized Virginians' freedom of choice and the economic impact on local vehicle dealerships. He said the governor “recognizes that supporting small businesses and consumers is not a partisan issue but a community and economic imperative.” (28:16). He added that this presents a chance to highlight the importance of empowering individuals to make decisions that are important to them. 

“And that's what today is all about,” Perno said. “Celebrating freedom.” 

Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears commented on the governor’s action in a 29-word statement, indicating that the governor’s action goes beyond exiting from the California Electric Vehicle Mandate. “I’m in full support of Governor Youngkin's actions to withdraw Virginia from REGGI and AG Jason Miyares' official opinion that Virginia is not legally bound to California's emission standards.” 

REGGI (pronounced “Reggie”) is the first mandatory market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. It is a cooperative effort among the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia. It is the first implemented carbon cap-and-trade initiative in the United States (2009) to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Within the 11-state region, REGGI compliance obligations apply to fossil-fueled power plants 25 megawatts and larger.

Neither the governor nor any speakers at the press conference or those quoted in the press release discussed a legal means to exit his predecessor's legislation. Nor did anyone discuss the environmental justice and equity impacts of air pollution from vehicle emissions affecting all Virginians, especially vulnerable residents in frontline communities who often face the most severe consequences.

No one addressed the disproportionate burden of air pollution on heavily urbanized communities and those near busy corridors. This is especially true of neighborhoods sandwiched between freeways, ports, and rail yards. Nor did anyone speak about air quality standards at levels that protect Virginians at the most significant risk: children, older adults, and people with lung and heart disease.