Governor Ralph Northam Signs Major New Clean Car Standards Bill

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Governor Ralph Northam announced newly-signed legislation Friday that will require approximately eight percent of model year 2025 vehicles sold in Virginia to be zero-emissions vehicles. HB 1965, introduced by Delegate Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico), adds Virginia to the list of states following California’s vehicle emissions standards, which are stricter than the federal standards Virginia currently follows.

“HB 1965 directs the state Air Pollution Control Board to implement a low-emissions and zero-emissions program for motor vehicles with a model year of 2025 and later,” Bagby said in January in the Agriculture, Chesapeake And Natural Resources House committee.

Bagby said, “It requires auto manufacturers to sell eight percent of their zero-emissions vehicles in Virginia, beginning with model year 2025. This bill makes more electric vehicles available to Virginians. It reduces carbon emissions and improves the health of the most vulnerable in our communities.”

Bagby said that low-emissions vehicles (LEV) include hybrids, and zero-emissions vehicles (ZEV) include fully electric vehicles like Teslas.

Praise for the Bill

Environmental groups and Democratic legislators hailed the clean car standards bill.

“Our state lawmakers put Virginia on the path to be the first state in the Southeast to adopt clean car standards,” Sierra Club Virginia Campaign and Policy Director Kelsey Crane said in a February press release.

The release said transportation generates 48 percent of Virginia’s greenhouse gasses.

“Adopting clean cars standards will create jobs, save lives, and help preserve our climate. We commend the state legislature for adopting policy that puts climate action, communities and public health first,” Crane said.

Earlier in March, Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) included the bill in a list of the top legislative accomplishments of the 2021 sessions.

“Delegate Bagby’s clean car bill will transform all the cars everybody’s driving in the next ten years,” Surovell told The Virginia Star. “It’s really actually hard to underestimate the importance of that one in a world [with] climate change. Norfolk and the Eastern Shore are under constant threat because of climate change. And with the transportation sector being the largest contributor to fossil fuels, I think that one was a big bill that hasn’t gotten a lot of discussion.”

Concern About Market Harms

In the Senate, Republican legislators worried that the bill would tie Virginia to California and any emissions regulations changes the state might make in the future. Democrats replied that California doesn’t make emissions changes without consulting other states that follow their lead, and that Virginia could opt out in the future.

Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) criticized the bill. He said, “What we’re doing is telling businesses what they can sell. That’s what we’re doing. And we’re telling consumers, families, what they can buy.”

Obenshain said that the bill would drive car prices in Virginia up, hurting auto dealers in places near the Tennessee and West Virginia borders.

He said, “I would worry about some of the car dealers out my way and in the direction of Bristol, because people down there are going to drive across State Street, they’re going to buy their cars and trucks in Bristol, Tennessee.”

Obenshain said, “I don’t think we ought to be imposing this kind of big-government decision making on families in Virginia, on businesses in Virginia.”

Two months ago in the Agriculture, Chesapeake And Natural Resources House Committee, vehicle manufacturer advocates said that while manufacturers want to sell more electric vehicles, just requiring more electric vehicles to be sold doesn’t automatically create demand for those vehicles.

Alliance for Automotive Innovation Director of State Affairs Josh Fisher told the committee that his organization objects to the ZEV mandate. “The reason we object to this approach is because it does nothing to achieve the strong electric vehicle market that we all want and that we all support.”

Fisher said a more effective strategy to increase ZEV sales would be to heavily invest in charging infrastructure, which he argued would be effective even without the mandate.

But he said that under the current ZEV sales goals, Virginia would need to invest $720 million into infrastructure to create enough demand. He also said the government should provide rebates to make the vehicles more affordable to consumers.

“Our members are in the business of making vehicles for people to buy, but the truth is the bill does nothing to increase or ensure consumer demand and it makes no invest in charging infrastructure,” Fisher said.

McGuire Woods Lobbyist Michelle Satterlund spoke on behalf of Volkswagen, which has its North America corporate headquarters in Herndon.

“We’re banking on the fact that people are going to buy these vehicles,” she said. “That’s the problem, and that’s whats puzzling about this. All it requires is the manufacturer to deliver these vehicles. And without infrastructure, without on-the-hood rebates, there’s no guarantee that the consumers are going to purchase these vehicles.”

Bills to Increase Demand for ZEVs

On Friday, Northam also signed HB 2282, which requires the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to create a report of policy recommendations to accelerate what the bill summary calls “transportation electrification.”

“What it does is direct the SCC to convene a very broad stakeholder group to think through issues having to do with how we get to a situation in Virginia which adequately supports the increased sale of electric vehicles,” HB 2282 sponsor Delegate Rip Sullivan (D-Fairfax) told a subcommittee in January.

He said the SCC would study issues like charging stations and special buyer incentives. Sullivan said, “If we’re going to ask manufacturers and auto dealers to increase their sales of electric vehicles in Virginia, in my view it’s our obligation as a General Assembly and as a commonwealth to help create the environment, pardon the pun, for that to be successful here in Virginia.”

The General Assembly also passed Delegate David Reid’s (D-Loudoun) HB 1979, which would create electric vehicle rebates up to $2,500 for years 2022 through 2026. Northam has until the end of March to sign the bill.

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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