Governor says Virginia will abandon California emissions standards

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced Wednesday that Virginia will abandon California’s stringent vehicle emissions rules aimed at reducing carbon pollution at the end of the year when that state’s current regulations expire, citing an attorney general opinion.

In response to a request from Youngkin and Senate Republican Leader Ryan McDougle, Attorney General Jason Miyares’ opinion issued Tuesday states that Virginia isn’t required to comply with new mandates adopted by the California Air Resources Board set to take effect on Jan. 1.

Youngkin, a Republican, said in a statement that Virginians deserve to choose which vehicles fit their needs and called the idea that government should tell people what kind of car they can buy “fundamentally wrong.”

“Once again, Virginia is declaring independence — this time from a misguided electric vehicle mandate imposed by unelected leaders nearly 3,000 miles away from the Commonwealth,” Youngkin said.

The move was quickly condemned by Democrats and environmental groups.

“He seems to think he has more power than Vladimir Putin,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell said via text message. “The governor is breaking the law and the AG is giving him cover.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center called the decision “illegal, shortsighted, and bad public policy.”

“The Clean Cars standards will help spur the transition to cleaner vehicles and bring significant health and environmental benefits to all Virginians. That is why the General Assembly adopted them,” Trip Pollard, a senior attorney with the center, said in a statement.

“The Governor tried to get the legislature to repeal the law and failed; he cannot just dictate a different outcome,” Pollard said.

Miyares said in a statement that the opinion from his office confirms that Virginians are no longer required to follow California’s standards,

“EV mandates like California’s are unworkable and out of touch with reality, and thankfully the law does not bind us to their regulations,” he said. “California does not control which cars Virginians buy and any thoughts that automobile manufacturers should face millions of dollars in civil penalties rather than allowing our citizens to choose their own vehicles is completely absurd.”

In a memo to the Department of Environmental Quality, the State Air Pollution Control Board and stakeholders, Natural and Historic Resources Secretary Travis A. Voyles said Wednesday that Virginia will default to federal standards at the end of the year. He said Miyares’ opinion confirms that state law doesn’t require the State Air Pollution Control Board to adopt California’s new standards and the board has not acted under its discretionary authority to do so.

Virginia’s “clean cars” law was initially adopted in 2021, when the state government was under full Democratic control. It required that starting in 2024 a certain percentage of new passenger vehicles sold by manufacturers be electric or hybrid electric. Last year, Virginia Senate Democrats defeated several Republican efforts to repeal the law.

The mechanism for reaching the mandated vehicle sales threshold involved adopting California’s vehicle emissions standards. California has had the authority to set its own rules for decades under a waiver from the federal Clean Air Act.

The program applies to manufacturers, not car dealers. Manufacturers who aren’t in compliance can buy credits from others who have surpassed the target.

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