The Bulletin

Virginia air board adopts clean car regulations 

By: - December 3, 2021 12:02 am

Traffic flows over the American Legion Bridge along I-495, the Capital Beltway, on the day before the Thanksgiving holiday November 22, 2006 between Virginia and Maryland. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board approved regulations Thursday that set up the framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles as part of a California program the General Assembly embraced during its winter 2021 session. 

“That is a very significant regulation. It will have a very positive impact on Virginia’s environment,” Mike Dowd, chief of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Division, told the board after the measure’s passage. “If it wasn’t against state personnel regulations, I’d be popping a bottle of champagne now.” 

In February, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly voted to adopt California vehicle emission standards that will not only set more stringent tailpipe limits for light- and medium-duty cars and trucks but set targets for electric vehicle sales. No Republicans voted in favor of the measure, which Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law in March. 

The federal Clean Air Act allows states two options when it comes to regulating vehicle emissions: they can either adopt federal standards or they can adopt stricter standards set by California under a waiver in the law. States are forbidden from crafting their own unique vehicle emissions regulations. 

To date, 14 states besides Virginia, including Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, have adopted the California approach. 

This winter, Virginia lawmakers chose to adopt both California’s low-emission vehicle and zero-emission vehicle standards. 

The LEV regulations approved by the Air Board Thursday will require new vehicles to meet increasingly strict limits for nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and greenhouse gas emissions. Virginia dealers will be required to sell California-certified vehicles beginning with model year 2025. 

Meanwhile, the ZEV regulations will require manufacturers to ensure that an increasing proportion of the light- and medium-duty vehicles they sell to Virginia dealers are electric, fuel cell or plug-in hybrid. 

Karen Sabasteanski, an air policy analyst with DEQ, said states that have adopted the California clean car standards “have not been in a situation where a manufacturer has not been able to meet the standard.” 

Virginia has no light- or medium-duty vehicle manufacturers, and Sabasteanski said the new regulations will not apply to the state’s three truck manufacturing operations — the Volvo plant in Dublin, Mack Truck facility in Roanoke County and Morgan Olson plant in Pittsylvania. 

Because the federal Clean Air Act requires states that adopt the California standards to do so two years before they go into effect, the regulations approved by the Air Board will not become effective until early 2024.

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.