Climate change did not appear on the ballot in Virginia this fall, but the voting for seats in the Old Dominion’s state legislature is being hailed as a win by environmental activists, who worked to protect the state’s membership in coalitions calling for cleaner vehicles and tighter restrictions on emissions.
In 2021, Virginia passed a law, the Clean Cars Virginia Bill, requiring the state to adopt California’s progressive vehicle emissions regulations and electric vehicle mandates. The law also says Virginia must follow California’s lead in implementing the emissions rules.
Virginia is one of 14 states, mostly on the West Coast and the Northeast, to follow California’s rules mandating cleaner vehicles with strict emissions standards. It is the only state in the southeastern U.S. to follow the California rules, which now cover roughly 40% of the U.S. car market.
After his election in November 2021, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin (pictured, below left) called for scrapping or severely modifying the Clean Cars rules, along with Virginia’s mandates for clean energy and membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which was designed to limit emissions from power plants.
If Republicans had won control of the legislature during this fall’s elections, Virginia could have become the first state to abandon the Clean Car Coalition, dealing a blow to California’s hold on the emissions rules.
“Governor Youngkin has been trying to repeal ‘Clean Cars’ since 2022. If he had gained total control of the state legislature, we would have seen the VCEA (Virginia Clean Economy Act), Clean Cars and RGGI all legislatively repealed,” Emma Fisher, deputy director of Climate Cabinet Action, an advocacy group that supports climate-focused candidates in elections, says in an email to Wards.
“Holding the Senate and flipping the House was a key climate win, and a resounding rejection of Youngkin’s anti-climate plans. Voters are looking for clean energy investments, clean energy jobs and ambitious action on climate change,” Fisher says.
The Climate Cabinet made Virginia one of their top targets for 2023 over a year ago.
The Environmental Defense Fund also campaigned against efforts by Youngkin, a former hedge fund executive, to roll back initiatives to slow climate change.
Virginia is 10th in the nation for clean-energy employment and is poised for even greater clean-economy growth with historic federal investments on the way. As more businesses transition to cleaner, more sustainable operations and invest in domestic manufacturing of clean-energy technologies, they are looking for states with policies that provide certainty about the clean-energy future, the EDF notes.
Youngkin says the mandates are inflexible and include a 30-year determination with a prescribed route that currently cannot be delivered and contains no guidelines ensuring reasonable energy costs for Virginia consumers.