Virginia House votes to repeal Clean Cars law

Bill has difficult road ahead in Democrat-controlled Senate

By: - January 26, 2023 8:27 am

A brand new Chevrolet Bolt EVU sits on the sales lot at Stewart Chevrolet on October 07, 2021 in Colma, California. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Republicans in the House of Delegates passed legislation Wednesday to repeal a law tying Virginia to California vehicle emissions standards that are set to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars in 2035. 

Along party lines, the House of Delegates voted 52-48 to pass House Bill 1378, carried by Del. Tony Wilt, R-Rockingham. 

Wilt’s bill faces a rocky road in the Senate, where Democrats have killed several Republican bills aimed at the same goal. Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, has said any bill to repeal the California emissions law that comes over from the House will meet the same fate. 

Democrats struck down several Republican efforts to roll back or delay the enactment of climate laws including the more stringent vehicle emissions standards during the last General Assembly session

In 2021, the General Assembly passed legislation that coupled Virginia vehicle emissions regulations with those set by the California Air Resources Board, a set of rules often called the “Clean Car” standards. Last year, CARB issued a new rule that will require that all new cars sold in the state be zero emission beginning in 2035.

The 2021 legislation Virginia enacted was one of two options the state has when it comes to regulating tailpipe emissions: either continue to follow the federal standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or follow more stringent regulations set by California.

The Clean Air Act allows states only two choices on vehicle emissions regulations to limit the number of standards that manufacturers must adhere to. California was granted an exception to set its own standards to address smog issues. Over a dozen other states have also chosen to adopt the Golden State’s rule.

Wilt and Republicans argue the California standards place burdensome cost demands on Virginians and say the 2035 target is unrealistic. EVs will also put a strain on the grid, Wilt said in a floor speech Wednesday.

“The free market is driving this, I would dare say as fast as they can,” Wilt said, noting manufacturers’ plans to electrify their fleets. “I think we’re all on board, there’s just a distinct difference [on] how we want to go about it.”

But Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Arlington, said Virginia’s adoption of the Clean Cars standard positions it as a leader in the “acceleration” toward electric vehicles. 

Passing Wilt’s bill sends a message that the state doesn’t want to lead “or, worse yet, can’t compete,” Sullivan said.

Del. Alfonso Lopez, D- Arlington, contended that data centers, which have proliferated in Northern Virginia, are already putting demands on the grid. 

Earlier Wednesday, a House subcommittee advanced a bill by Sullivan that would set up a $25 million fund for the establishment of charging infrastructure outside of highway corridors. Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, has a similar bill in the Senate that is scheduled to be taken up Thursday.

“We want every part of Virginia” to be part of the transition, said Sullivan in the subcommittee meeting.

Similar proposals were put forward in 2022 but failed to pass the General Assembly or make it into the budget. 


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Charlie Paullin
Charlie Paullin

Charles Paullin covers energy and environment for the Mercury. He previously worked for Northern Virginia Daily in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and for the New Britain Herald in central Connecticut. An Alexandria native, Charles graduated from the University of Hartford initially wanting to cover sports. He's received several Virginia Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, local government and state politics.