Virginia Drops Plans to Phase Out Gas-Powered Vehicles

June 7, 2024

Originally published by Bloomberg Law. Written by Drew Hutchinson.

Virginia will shed its previously adopted standards to phase out the sale of new gas-powered cars, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced Wednesday.

State Attorney General Jason Miyares backed the move in a legal opinion, saying that Virginia is not required to comply with California’s Advanced Clean Cars II standards, which require 100% of new car sales to be zero-emission vehicles by 2035. State regulators earlier this year published standards aligned with California’s clean cars program.

“The idea that government should tell people what kind of car they can or can’t purchase is fundamentally wrong,” Youngkin (R) said in a press release.

California’s newest ACCII standards are scheduled to go into effect in January 2025. Virginia will revert back to federal emissions standards at that time, according to the release.

“EV mandates like California’s are unworkable and out of touch with reality, and thankfully the law does not bind us to their regulations,” Miyares said in the release.

Trip Pollard, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, called the move illegal and a unilateral departure from state law. The center is assessing “every possible action” to ensure that Virginia retains the clean car rules, he said.

The federal Clean Air Act allows states to either follow Environmental Protection Agency tailpipe emissions standards or opt into California’s stricter ones. Virginia enacted a law to follow California in 2021, and state regulators finalized accompanying rules in 2024.

Virginia’s 2021 law says the state Air Pollution Control Board “shall periodically amend any regulations” to comply with the Clean Air Act.

At the time Virginia passed its clean cars legislation, California had only promulgated the first iteration of its tailpipe emissions rules. California then tightened its standards in 2022, creating the Advanced Clean Cars II program.

Wednesday’s news marks a surprise and a “flip-flop” from what the attorney general’s office previously expressed in an email obtained by the Virginia Mercury about the clean cars program, Pollard said.

Youngkin has played a key role in dialing back other environmental programs. He released a 2022 executive order to explore the state’s withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the region’s cap-and-trade program aimed at slashing emissions. The state air pollution board voted in 2023 to pull Virginia out of the pact.

Connor Kish, director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, called the governor’s and attorney general’s announcement “further proof that Governor Youngkin thinks he can sidestep the laws he doesn’t like.”

Backing out of the latest California clean car standards threatens carbon reduction goals for the transportation sector, which was responsible for 42% of greenhouse gas emissions in Virginia as of 2019, Pollard said.

The American Petroleum Institute, which represents roughly 600 oil and gas companies, issued a statement praising the rollback.

“We applaud Governor Youngkin and Attorney General Miyares for standing up for consumer freedom and pushing back against restrictive government overreach,” CEO Mike Sommers said in the release. “Like all Americans, Virginians want choices – not mandates.”

The Sierra Club has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Law is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.