Virginia accelerates clean transportation

The Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond.

The 2021 General Assembly session built upon last year’s transformative transportation funding bill and groundbreaking legislation slashing carbon pollution from power plants with a series of actions that significantly advance Virginia’s efforts to cut transportation pollution. The most substantial step is the adoption of the Clean Cars bill, which Governor Northam signed and will make Virginia the first state in the South to adopt stricter standards that apply in 14 other states to reduce emissions. This breakthrough was complemented by a suite of other steps regarding cleaner vehicles and cleaner alternatives to driving.

“Transportation is the largest source of carbon pollution in Virginia,” said SELC Land & Community Program leader Trip Pollard. “The provisions adopted this year accelerate Virginia’s move towards a clean transportation future, which is better for our health, better for our families, and better for our climate.”

The Clean Cars bill (HB1965) will require auto manufacturers to increase the average fuel-efficiency of cars sold in Virginia and to deliver an increasing percentage of zero-emission electric vehicles (EV). It will result in a greater reduction of carbon pollution than any other step the state has taken.

Legislation also passed (HB1979) providing for an EV purchase rebate bill that is among the most progressive in the country, providing rebates for used as well as new vehicles and a greater incentive for low and moderate income buyers. Unfortunately, the budget adopted by the Assembly does not provide funding for these rebates.

In addition, the Assembly directed the State Corporation Commission to report on policy proposals to electrify transportation, with a focus on charging infrastructure (HB2282). And it called for the analysis and recommendation of steps to address charging infrastructure needs in the state energy plan adopted every four years (SB1223).

The Assembly also called for the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to conduct a transit modernization study that includes consideration of shifting to electric transit buses, as well as a specific focus on transit services and engagement for underserved and underrepresented communities (HJ542).

Moreover, budget items adopted provide additional funding for cleaner forms of transportation, including:

  • $83.5 million to increase passenger rail service on the D.C.-Charlottesville-Lynchburg-Roanoke line and into the New River Valley
  • $83.5 million to improve commuter rail service on Virginia Railway Express’ Manassas Line;
  • $32.4 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
  • $10 million to establish pilot programs for fare-free transit

SELC is proud to have worked with legislators, the Northam administration, and partner groups to advance these measures. We played a lead role in shaping and building support for many of these provisions, which are consistent with the multi-faceted approach we have advocated to develop cleaner, more equitable transportation systems.

“The General Assembly made historic progress towards cleaner transportation this year and we were glad to be a major part of that effort,” Pollard says. “Virginia is now on a path we can build upon to tackle our largest source of climate pollution and improve our environment, our economy, and our health.”

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