Senate Democrats defeat remaining bill seeking to repeal Clean Car standards

By: - February 14, 2023 6:05 pm
electric vehicle charging station Henrico

The Biden administration’s goal to have half of all U.S. vehicles be electric by 2030, will require increased production of minerals such as lithium, nickel and cobalt used in batteries. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)

The last surviving bill from Republicans aimed at rolling back a Virginia law tying the state to emissions standards set by California that will ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles starting in 2035 reached the end of the road Tuesday.

The Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee voted 8-7 along party lines to defeat the bill from Del. Tony Wilt, R-Rockingham. Wilt’s legislation previously passed the House of Delegates along party lines.

Senators held limited discussion on Wilt’s bill Tuesday after committee Chairman Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, noted the panel had already taken up and defeated several similar measures this session.

Nevertheless, Wilt argued Virginia “should separate ourselves from the California standards.” The federal vehicle emissions standards the state would follow if it decoupled from the California rules, he said, are “not lacking.”

Under the federal Clean Air Act, states have two options for regulating vehicle emissions: the federal standard or standards enacted by the California Air Resources Board. 

Last year, CARB adopted stricter regulations that will ban the sale of new gas-powered light-duty vehicles in 2035. The rule is phased in, with 35% percent of new cars sold required to be zero emission in 2026, although provisions allowing manufacturers to bank and trade credits could reduce that threshold to 20%.

Last week, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, introduced an amendment to the Senate’s budget proposal that would have directed the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board “to delay or stop” implementation of the California standards. Obenshain cited the “impossibility” of meeting the regulation’s deadlines.

Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, however, said he had “confidence in Virginia that we can meet the standard of the Clean Car Act and make Virginia air cleaner and healthier for all of us.” 

Obenshain’s amendment was defeated on a party-line vote. 

In addition to concerns about meeting zero-emission targets, Republicans have cautioned that an influx of electric vehicles could strain grid reliability and have voiced concerns over steep EV costs.

Electric vehicles remain more expensive than gas-powered cars, although some analysts say that may be changing. On Friday, the New York Times reported EVs could become “as cheap as or cheaper than cars with internal combustion engines” this year because of incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act and more efficient manufacturing processes.

Virginia Democrats have defended the 2021 law on the grounds thate it puts Virginia at the front of the line to receive electric vehicles from automakers who are transitioning their fleets and will improve air quality.  A 2020 report from advocacy group Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action found that “transportation sources are responsible for 190 air pollution related premature deaths annually in Virginia.”

Several environmental groups, including the Southern Environmental Law Center, League of Conservation Voters and Climate Cabinet Action lauded the defeat of Wilt’s bill.

“Virginia’s participation in the Clean Car standards have been secured this session because of the pro-climate majority in the state Senate,” said Blair St. Ledger-Olson, Climate Cabinet Action’s legislative director in a statement. 


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.