On Tuesday, Democrats in the Virginia Senate blocked repeated Republican attempts to repeal a “clean cars” law that would have adopted California’s strict limits for vehicle emissions in an effort to decrease carbon pollution.

The decision in committee was a turning point in the Republican campaign to abolish the law, which is one of the session’s most talked-about issues. Similar bills, which have a better chance of passing the Republican-controlled House, would ultimately be brought before the same Senate committee for a vote. The passage of the rules was praised on Tuesday by environmental groups as one of the most significant actions Virginia has taken to combat climate change.


The Natural Resources Defense Council’s policy director for Virginia, Walton Shepherd, said that the vote shows that attacks led by Governor Glenn Youngkin on Virginia’s bedrock climate laws are a dead end and that he should get on the side of making pollution progress rather than standing against it.


Even though Republicans tried and failed to repeal the 2021 law last year, Youngkin has vowed to try again now that California has committed to mandating that all new automobiles, pickup trucks, and SUVs be electric or hydrogen-powered by 2035. Drivers can keep and even purchase secondhand gas-powered vehicles in California.

Critics of California’s lead argue that the state’s aims are unrealistic and that the cost of electric vehicles and their batteries will put them out of reach for most people. The ability of the electricity grid to meet the increased demand was also questioned by speakers on Tuesday.

Some Republicans in the Senate have asked their Democratic counterparts to at least postpone the standards’ adoption.

At the very least, I’m holding out hope that we can fix this. Act so that common sense can rule the day, Senator Richard Stuart urged.

As a last resort, the Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources voted down a package of related repeal legislation (8-7 along party lines) that merged multiple earlier unsuccessful efforts.

Two years ago, when Democrats controlled both houses of the state legislature, the “clean cars” law was first enacted. The bill that former Governor Ralph Northam signed into law was highly sought after by those concerned with the environment. As of the year 2024, a quota will be placed on the share of electric and hybrid vehicles that automakers can sell to individual consumers.

Adopting California’s vehicle emissions regulations is the means to attain the required vehicle sales threshold, which would begin at around 8% in 2024 and climb year thereafter. For many years, thanks to a waiver from the federal Clean Air Act, California has been able to establish its own regulations.

Manufacturers, but not dealerships, are eligible for the scheme. Producers who fall short of the target might compensate by purchasing credits from compliant producers.

Change proponents claimed that some automakers prefer to ship their electric cars (EVs) to states that use California’s rules. According to them, this has resulted in a supply-and-demand mismatch throughout the commonwealth of Virginia, notably beyond the Washington metropolitan area’s suburbs.

Federal data shows that transportation in Virginia is the single largest source of heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution, so the law aimed to make it easier and more likely for residents to pick cleaner cars.

When the law was passed in Virginia, some claimed that the commonwealth shouldn’t be so closely tied to another state, specifically California.

After the Air Resources Board in California tightened its criteria even further in August, Virginia officials announced the new regulations would be implemented there as well. “I will try to prevent this foolish order from being pushed on Virginians,” Youngkin said, promising to push for a repeal.

Youngkin’s spokeswoman, Macaulay Porter, said in a statement, “As the governor noted, Democrats in Virginia outsourced the decision-making on energy policy to unelected bureaucrats in California.”

The governor has stated that he supports attempts to transition to cleaner energy sources in principle, but that he disagrees with the tactics chosen during the years when the Democrats were in control.

During the committee hearing, a spokesperson for the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents most automakers, stated that the group was not in favor of or opposed to the bill. However, Representative Josh Fisher expressed worry that Virginia had not passed laws since 2021 to assist in meeting the mandate’s standards.

I’m here to lobby for changes to your state’s construction standards and subsidies for consumers making EV purchases. If you want to implement this policy, Fisher says, “you need to accept all of these policies.”