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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Virginia governor exits stage left on electric vehicle mandate

Democrats claim the Republican governor is overstepping his authority against the wishes of the state legislature.

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — Virginia's governor announced an exit plan for electric vehicle mandate, the second climate change initiative from which the Republican has pulled back during his term. 

"Once again, Virginia is declaring independence — this time from a misguided electric vehicle mandate imposed by unelected leaders nearly 3,000 miles away from the commonwealth," Governor Glenn Youngkin said in a news release. "The idea that government should tell people what kind of car they can or can't purchase is fundamentally wrong."

State Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell, a Democrat, said Youngkin was overstepping his bounds. 

"We fought a war in 1776 to ensure that a governor doesn't have these kinds of powers," Surovell said during a Zoom call with reporters. "Youngkin, I think, thinks he has more power than Vladimir Putin."

Youngkin and Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares announced their plan Wednesday to stop enforcing California's electric vehicle mandate in Virginia starting at the end of 2024, when California's current regulations expire. 

Former Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, enacted legislation in 2021 that authorized Virginia's State Air Pollution Control Board to adopt regulations tying the commonwealth to the first iteration of California's auto emissions standards, the Advanced Clean Cars I regulation. 

The Republican leaders argue that the law does not compel the adoption of the most recent iteration of the California Air Resources Board's standards, which will take effect on January 1, 2025. The new standards, coined Advanced Clean Cars II, require 35% of new cars sold in model year 2026 to be electric vehicles, with a 100% electric vehicle mandate by 2035 for all new light-duty vehicles purchased.  

Miyares defended the legality of the exist in an advisory opinion, focusing on language in the 2021 legislation that states the air board "may" adopt California's standards — but is not required to. 

Surovell instead pointed to language that includes "shall," a term he describes as binding. 

"There's a law that's on the books. The law says that we shall join the California Air standard," Surovell said. "He just simply doesn't have the legal authority to say that we can get out whenever we feel like. This is not how democracy works."

In 2022, Youngkin and the air board he appointed removed Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, spurring litigation that remains ongoing. Under the initiative, power producers buy allowances for each metric ton of carbon they emit, and the number of allowances available for purchase at auction declines yearly.

Like the California mandate, questions remain over whether the board can exit an initiative voted upon by the Legislature. 

"Taking away one of our best tools to protect Virginians from power plant pollution wasn't enough," executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters Michael Town said in a statement. "Now, Governor Youngkin wants Virginians to keep breathing tailpipe pollution too."

Federal law requires states to follow the regulations outlined in the Clean Air Act. Still, it allows for waivers from states, like California, whose standards are at least as protective of public health and welfare as applicable federal standards. 

Washington, D.C., and 15 states, including North Carolina and Pennsylvania, follow California's mandate. Surovell said the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association asked Northham to join the mandate because manufacturers prioritized sending electric vehicles to those states. The association has changed its tune since 2021. 

"The reality, however, is that consumer demand for EVs in Virginia and nationally has not yet materialized, compounded by costs, 'range anxiety,' and the lack of charging and electrical infrastructure to support these new vehicles," said Don Hall, president and CEO of the association, in a statement. "We continue to believe EV goals are achievable, but on a longer timeline."

Republican state Senators Ryan McDougle, Richard Stuart and John McGuire, along with Delegates Lee Ware, Tony Wilt and Buddy Fowler, unsuccessfully co-patroned legislation during the 2024 General Assembly session to repeal the mandate. The bill was passed indefinitely in a subcommittee on an eight-to-six vote. 

"Virginia's laws should not be determined by California politicians," McDougle said in a statement. "Instead, our laws should be decided by Virginians who are elected to serve Virginia and address issues that face our Commonwealth, not a state nearly 3,000 miles away."

Virginia's secretary of natural and historic resources, Travis Voyles — who most recently served as oversight counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works under Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — echoed the sentiment. 

"This announcement by the governor will return to those in the Commonwealth the freedom to choose which vehicles best fit the needs of their families and businesses and provide increased certainty in ensuring that Virginia's laws and regulations are not tied to imprudent policies from states like California," Voyles said in a letter to stakeholders. 

According to 2023 data from auto dealers' associations, electric vehicles account for 8.8% of all new cars sold in Virginia, up from 3.1% in 2021, and the average Virginia dealership invests $348,000 to upgrade its infrastructure to support eclectic vehicles.

Surovell said he expects legal challenges to Wednesday's exit. 

"He just seems to think he's, he's like the emperor and can just declare what the law is," Surovell said. "I don't think it's any question that somebody's going to bring a lawsuit to try to stop this before it goes very far."

Categories / Consumers, Energy, Environment, Government, Politics

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