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In Senate, Va. Democrats kill Republican attempts to roll back vehicle emissions law

Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland, speaks to the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources committee. (Charlie Paullin/Virginia Mercury)
Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland, speaks to the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources committee. (Charlie Paullin/Virginia Mercury)

A Democratic-controlled Senate committee on Tuesday voted down three proposals from Republican legislators attempting to decouple Virginia from California’s vehicle emissions standards and revert to following federal standards.

The vote signals that Democrats, who recently secured narrow majorities in both the House and the Senate, are standing by a climate-focused law they passed in 2021 that began transitioning the state to California’s more stringent system, which will ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles beginning in 2035.

This story was reported and written by our media partner The Virginia Mercury

“We know as a society we have a problem,” said Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, as she motioned to kill the bills.

The three bills rejected by the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee on party-line votes were carried by Senate Minority Leader Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland, and Sen. John McGuire.

Several House Republicans have introduced similar bills, which are likely to meet the same fate in the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources.

Virginia voted to begin following vehicle emission regulations set by the California Air Resources Board in 2021 when Democrats controlled all three branches of state government. The California rules, as part of an effort to reduce the release of greenhouse gas emissions warming the planet, set stricter emission limits than those imposed by the federal government for vehicles and require manufacturers to meet certain sales targets for electric vehicles.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, states are allowed only two options: either follow tailpipe emissions regulations set by California, which was granted an exception in the 1970s to deal with intense smog issues, or follow those set by the federal government. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed tightening its own tailpipe rules, a change that is expected to lead to an  increase in electric vehicle sales.

Virginia Republicans, however, have strongly opposed the law, saying the state lacks the necessary electric vehicle charging infrastructure and is unlikely to meet intermediate sales targets set by the California regulations.

“I know people are passionate about this, but then sometimes we have to deal with the reality of the situation,” said Stuart.

Republicans have also voiced concerns about the ability of Virginia residents to shoulder the costs of electric vehicles. 

On Tuesday, Sen. Saddam Azlan Salim, D-Fairfax, asked if Republicans would be amenable to proposals to offset the cost of EVs. In a previous session, Del. David Reid, D-Arlington, successfully carried legislation to set up a  rebate program for EVs, but it has never been funded. 

Stuart said he wasn’t aware of state credits and argued many vehicles aren’t eligible for federal tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act because of strict requirements.

Don Hall, president and CEO of the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association, said in a statement after the vote that “Virginia’s new car dealers are embracing the future of electric vehicles along with their manufacturers.”

“Mass adoption of EVs, however, requires government policies that are technologically achievable, maintain affordability, and complement the efforts of the private sector in advancing the vehicle fleet turnover needed to achieve the targeted environmental benefits within a timeframe that helps, not hurts, new vehicle buyers,” he continued.

Committee chair Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, acknowledged that the Clean Car Act standards, as well as the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act, have instituted “ambitious” policy goals that the state may have issues meeting. He said he and Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, have discussed the possibility of holding a conference on how Virginia can achieve those goals.

“This is a serious matter,” Marsden said.