NORFOLK, Va. — A Virginia law passed by Democrats may require the state to follow California's new regulations that will phase out sales of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035.
The regulations, approved by the California Air Resources Board Thursday, created a roadmap that will lead to all new cars and light trucks sold in the state having zero emissions. The change wouldn't ban the use of gas-powered vehicles or the sale of older gas-powered vehicles, though.
The Clean Air Act allows California to enact its own emission standards for new motor vehicles, pending a waiver approval from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Other states aren't allowed to do that, but they can adopt California's emission standards, which Virginia did under a state law passed by a Democratic General Assembly and signed by then-Gov. Ralph Northam in 2021.
"The EPA has certain standards that are federal minimal standards and there is a carve-out to the Clean Air Act that California sought and received to make standards that were more stringent than those federally required," 13News Now legal analyst Ed Booth said.
The law required the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board to implement a low-emissions and zero-emissions vehicle program matching California regulations for vehicles with the model year 2025 and later.
An estimate found the standards would reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Virginia by 48 million metric tons through 2040, while also reducing other emissions, according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
According to an e-mail obtained by the Virginia Mercury, Virginia Assistant Attorney General Michael Jagels concluded the state is bound to California's decision unless the 2021 law is amended or repealed.
Victoria LaCivita, a spokesperson for Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, declined to share the e-mail with 13News Now under the protection of attorney-client privilege but acknowledged that the state is bound to California regulations.
"The Attorney General is hopeful that the General Assembly repeals this law and discontinues any trend that makes Virginia more like California," LaCivita said in a statement. "Unelected California bureaucrats should not be dictating the will of Virginians."
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin criticized the 2021 law and said he is working to prevent California standards from being enforced in Virginia.
"In an effort to turn Virginia into California, liberal politicians who previously ran our government sold Virginia out by subjecting Virginia drivers to California vehicle laws," Youngkin said in a statement. "Now, under that pact, Virginians will be forced to adopt the California law that prohibits the sale of gas and diesel-fueled vehicles."
Tripp Pollard with the Southern Environmental Law Center pushed back on the two Republicans, saying cleaner vehicles offer environmental, economic and health benefits for Virginians.
He also pointed out that the standards haven't gone into effect yet and the alternative is adhering to federal standards, instead of California's, since Virginia isn't authorized under the Clean Air Act to create its own.
Don Hall, the president and CEO of the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association, said auto manufacturers and dealers are committed to electric vehicles, regardless of what regulations are in place:
"We are committed to making sure we're doing our part to ensure the vehicles we drive are the most fuel efficient, the best for the environment as they can be, and are quality products offered to consumers at a reasonable cost.
Virginia is in a quandary as to whether it continues to move in direction of the California standards. Regardless of regulation, we are certain that electric vehicles will be dominant on our nation’s roads by 2035. But when it comes to these standards, we believe the legislature and our elected leaders need to decide what makes the most sense for Virginia."
The association, which represents car and truck dealers across the state, supported adopting California's regulations, the Virginia Mercury reported.