The Bulletin

Northam signs agreement aiming to electrify Virginia’s new trucks and buses by 2050

By: - December 9, 2021 10:40 am

Interstate 81, shown here from the northbound side in Montgomery County, just north of Exit 114, is getting an influx of state transportation funding from a deal that was among the most significant developments of the 2019 General Assembly session. (Mason Adams/ For the Virginia Mercury)

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that Virginia has signed onto a multistate agreement that aims to electrify all new large trucks and buses in the state by 2050. 

“We’ve heard from many of you — transportation businesses, major retailers, environmental and health advocates — how important it is to send the signal that Virginia is open for the business of clean transportation,” Northam said in a recorded message during a virtual workshop held by the Electrification Coalition, a nonprofit group that describes itself as promoting electric vehicles to reduce oil dependence. 

The agreement, known as the Multi-State Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero Emission Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding, has been signed by 15 other states, including Maryland and North Carolina, and Washington, D.C. A voluntary measure, it does not legally commit Virginia to any actions. 

Among the goals of the MOU is that participating states will work toward electrifying their government fleets. 

Northam said Thursday that while medium- and heavy-duty vehicles make up only about 11 percent of vehicles on the road, they are responsible for 29 percent of greenhouse gas pollution. 

“We’ve made great strides toward an electric transportation future for Virginia, and the electrification of the light-duty vehicle sector is well underway,” he said. “But we’re not done yet.” 

The Virginia General Assembly voted earlier this year to adopt more stringent light-vehicle emission standards set by California, and the state’s Air Pollution Control Board passed required regulations this month. Under the federal Clean Air Act, states are allowed to either adopt federal transportation emissions standards or California’s but may not create their own programs. 

Whether the new MOU will survive the next administration is uncertain: Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin on Wednesday announced he intends to withdraw Virginia from another major carbon reduction program touted by Democrats, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, although his authority to do so through executive action is disputed.  

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is the Mercury's environment and energy reporter, covering everything from utility regulation to sea level rise. Originally from McLean, she has spent over a decade in journalism and academic publishing and previously worked as a staff reporter for Chesapeake Bay Journal, the Progress-Index and the Caroline Progress. She is the recipient of a first place award for explanatory reporting from the Society of Environmental Journalists and has twice been honored by the Virginia Press Association as "Best in Show" for online writing. She was chosen for the 2020 cohort of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. Contact her at [email protected]