Repeal of law requiring Virginia to comply with California ‘clean cars’ standards stalls

State Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources voted 8-7 to defeat proposed repeal.
Stock image of Virginia Capitol

February 14, 2023 5:50pm

Updated: February 14, 2023 11:17pm

Efforts by Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly to unhitch Virginia from alignment with California’s vehicle emission standards this session officially stalled Tuesday in a Senate committee when a proposed repeal was defeated.

Lawmakers on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources voted 8-7 to defeat a proposed repeal of a law that aligns Virginia with California’s emission standards for vehicles.

The same committee defeated an identical proposed repeal from Republicans in the Senate last month.

The General Assembly voted in 2021 to align with California’s standards for vehicle emissions, which outline more stringent emissions regulations than the federal government. The so-called “Clean Cars” law set certain requirements for emissions, including that a percentage of new cars sold be electric or hybrid starting in 2024 and all cars sold be zero-emission beginning in 2035.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Republican lawmakers had backed the proposed repeal, arguing against tying Virginia’s emissions standards to California. A representative from Youngkin’s administration told lawmakers last month that they believe “a repeal of tying Virginia to standards and regulations in California or any state for that matter is the most appropriate path forward.”

Republican lawmakers also voiced concern about whether Virginia could realistically meet the electric vehicle sales targets set by California’s standards. Under the standards, Virginia is expected to meet a 35% target for new car sales to be zero emission by 2026.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Del. Tony Wilt, R-Rockingham, raised concern about the ability of the state’s electric grid to handle an uptick in electric vehicles, noting that the state is set to decommission carbon-emitting energy sources by 2050. Wilt said he was concerned about reducing electric generation sources while increasing demand on the grid.

“My grandmother used to say ‘hope for the best, but prepare for the worst,’ and I feel like the position we're in now, we're just hoping for the best,” Wilt said.

Democratic lawmakers argued that aligning with California’s standards is the best way to address climate change and pollution in the commonwealth.

During last month’s hearing, environmental advocates and lawmakers alike noted that Virginia’s alignment with California’s standards means the state will begin receiving greater shipments of electric vehicles. Advocates also noted the state has received millions of dollars from the federal government to expand electric vehicle infrastructure.

“Virginia’s Clean Cars law – because it guarantees that Virginians can access zero-emission electric cars in the state – safeguards public health, protects the communities most-impacted by vehicle pollution, and tackles climate change," Walton Shepherd, Virginia Policy Director with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement Tuesday. "And yet, Governor Youngkin has attacked the law – no matter what harm that causes to ordinary Virginians.

“Thankfully, the Senate did not let the baseless attacks against the Clean Cars law stand, and the last bill died today. The Clean Cars law was enacted by Virginians, for Virginians."

Several other states have opted to align with California’s standards for vehicle emissions. Under the federal Clean Air Act, states can either align with California’s regulations on vehicle emissions or align with the federal government – states do not have the option to set their own emissions standards.