News | September 12, 2022

New clean car standards will bring enormous benefits

A Chester, Virginia, family plugs in their electric vehicle to charge.

What does California’s recent adoption of new tailpipe pollution regulations have to do with Virginia and other states in the South?

Quite a lot, actually. Under the federal Clean Air Act, states have the option to follow either the federal tailpipe emissions standards or California’s more protective standards. Adopting California’s standards is the only way states can have tailpipe standards that are stronger than the federal baseline.

In August, California adopted new tailpipe pollution regulations called the Advanced Clean Cars II standards.

“The transportation sector is the top source of carbon pollution nationally and throughout the South—and a significant source of other pollutants that harm our health and our environment,” said Trip Pollard, leader of SELC’s Land & Community Program. “The Clean Car standards are a critical tool to address the climate emergency and to provide cleaner vehicles for our communities.”

Virginia’s legislature voted to adopt the Clean Car standards in 2021. SELC played an integral role in educating legislators and the public on the benefits of adopting the standards, providing legal and policy analysis backing the bill, and working to reach a compromise with automakers to remove their opposition. We also helped defeat attempts to repeal the Clean Cars statute in the 2022 Virginia General Assembly session.

In addition to being the single largest step Virginia has taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the Clean Cars standards will bring a whole host of health and economic benefits.

Staff Attorney Carroll Courtenay

The initial regulations will apply starting in model year 2025, and auto manufacturers will be required to provide cleaner gas-powered vehicles, as well as an increasing number of zero-emission vehicles—generally electric vehicles (EVs) or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) that still have internal-combustion engines—for sale in the state.

The Advanced Clean Cars II standards would apply starting in model year 2026. Over the course of nine years, the program increases the percentage of new zero-emission vehicles that auto manufacturers must provide for sale in the states that have adopted these standards. By model year 2035, 100% of new passenger car and light-duty truck sales would be zero-emission vehicles—likely a combination of EVs and PHEVs. These standards do not affect cars and light-duty trucks already on the road, and they do not apply to the used car market or to medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. There also is flexibility in how auto manufacturers meet the standards—including the use of credits they can generate, buy, and sell.

“States have a lot to gain from the transition to cleaner vehicles,” noted SELC Staff Attorney Carroll Courtenay. “In addition to being the single largest step Virginia has taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the Clean Cars standards will bring a whole host of health and economic benefits.”

In Virginia, the widespread transition to EVs could, by 2050, yield more than $1.3 billion in avoided annual health costs and avoid 115 premature deaths, more than 1,780 asthma attacks, and nearly 8,190 lost workdays each year. This is especially important in low-income communities and communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by transportation pollution.

Opposing Clean Cars standards is incredibly short-sighted and drives us in the wrong direction.

Senior Attorney Trip Pollard

There are additional economic benefits to transitioning to cleaner vehicles. Auto manufacturers send EVs and PHEVs to states that have adopted the Clean Car standards first, giving consumers in those states better access to these vehicles. EVs are also typically less expensive to maintain and operate than gasoline-powered vehicles, and EV purchase prices are predicted to be comparable to gas vehicles in the near future due to continuing improvements in battery technology and cost-effectiveness. The increased use of EVs and PHEVs will also decrease our reliance on foreign—and volatile—oil markets since these vehicles can be fueled by domestic (and cleaner) energy sources.

The Clean Car standards complement a host of other policies. The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act are bringing funding for EV charging infrastructure and EV purchase incentives to states nationwide. And a number of auto manufacturers, including Ford, GM, Audi, and Volvo, have all committed to phasing out gas-powered cars by 2035 or before. The Advanced Clean Cars II program will bring these vehicles to states sooner.

Despite the many benefits of cleaner vehicles and the fact that the auto industry is already beginning to phase-out gas-powered cars, Governor Youngkin announced last week that he will push for the repeal of Virginia’s Clean Cars statute, and other southern states have yet to adopt the Clean Cars standards.

“Opposing Clean Cars standards is incredibly short-sighted and drives us in the wrong direction,” said Pollard. “States in the South—and across the country—have a lot to gain with the Advanced Clean Cars II program, and SELC will continue our advocacy to accelerate the shift to cleaner vehicles.”

We’re curbing transportation pollution.