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Environmentalists Beat Back Bid to Kill Clean Air Rules in Virginia


By a narrow margin, Democrats in the Virginia legislature blocked efforts by the state’s Republican Governor, Glenn Youngkin, to withdraw from coalition of states that have adopted California-style regulations to control vehicle emissions and encourage the adoption of electric vehicles.

Va Gov Glenn Youngkin
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin and fellow Republicans failed to change tough emissions requirements passed by Dems in 2021.

Seventeen states now follow California’s lead on vehicle emissions, though four of the states, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada and Virginia, have only begun to phase in tougher emission standards. Colorado adopted tighter regulations in 2022.

Influence of California coalition grows

Additionally, the State of California announced plans to block the sales of vehicles with internal combustion engines by 2035. Other states are also considering bans on ICE engines.

Environmentalists are also hoping Michigan, the traditional home of the auto industry and muscle cars, could soon agree to California’s rules on controlling the emission of greenhouse gases from vehicles and the adoption of EVs.

For now, though, Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and the state’s legislature, which is controlled by Democrats for the for the first time in 40 years, appear to have other priorities for now, such as a tax cut for seniors and a repeal of the state’s “Right-To-Work” Law.

On the other hand, at least one state, Wyoming, is currently considering going in the opposite direction and banning the sale of electric vehicles by 2035.

Key Republican figure opposes spread of EVs

Newsom at 1 million EV 2022
California Governor Gavin Newsom met with the owner of the 1 millionth plug-in electric vehicle sold in the state.

Youngkin, who is often mentioned by political pundits and consultants as a potential Republican candidate for President in the future, campaigned against the tougher clean air rules for vehicles.

Virginia’s current the rules were adopted in 2021 when Democrats controlled Virginia’s governor’s office, and both chambers of the state legislature. The bill requires Virginia automatically adopts tailpipe emissions standards implemented in California but stops short of banning sales of ICE vehicles.

Youngkin, a former hedge fund executive, also previously argued the using the California rules and promoting the use of EVs would undermine the reliability of the Virginia’s electric grid.

Meanwhile, environmentalists are gearing up to protect the Democratic edge in the Virginia Senate and win back the lower chamber in elections next fall. They also worked to help flip a Virginia Senate seat from Republican to Democrat in a special election earlier this month.

In a key vote this week, lawmakers on the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee rejected GOP proposals to block the clean air rules, which will take effect in 2024, according to the Washington Post.

If the measure had passed, it would have marked the first time any state would have moved to withdraw from the coalition favoring the California inspired rules, which now cover close to 40% of the markets for new vehicles across the United States.

2023 Kia EV6 GT charging port REL
More and more states are adopting California’s emissions standards.

EVs fall short as culture war target

While some conservative legislators have seized on California’s ban on the sales of vehicles with combustion engines as a rallying cry in Virginia and Wyoming, it has been difficult for them to electric vehicles an issue in the nation’s culture wars.

For one thing, Elon Musk, currently a hero in conservative media, has openly stated one of his goals is to end the use of internal combustion engines everywhere.

Several Southern States and their Republican legislatures have been eager to cash in on the economic development and the billions of dollars in investment being poured into the development of electric vehicles.

The investment has led to the construction of new EV assembly plants and battery plants in Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama as well as Republican leaning states such as Arkansas, Kansas and Indiana. Even Virginia has a plant building electric heavy-duty trucks in Southwestern part of the state.

The GOP-dominated legislatures in Tennessee and Georgia also have put up billions of dollars in incentives to promote electric vehicle related development.


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