Press Release | June 5, 2024

Statement from SELC on Governor Youngkin’s Illegal Attempt to Override Virginia’s Clean Cars Law

RICHMOND, Va. – After two years of failed efforts to repeal the legislative directive that Virginia implement the Clean Cars standards through the General Assembly, Governor Youngkin announced today that he plans to override the law that would substantially cut tailpipe pollution.

“Governor Youngkin’s attempt to wave his hand and dismiss Virginia’s Clean Cars law is illegal, shortsighted, and bad public policy,” said Trip Pollard, a Senior Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The Clean Cars standards will help spur the transition to cleaner vehicles and bring significant health and environmental benefits to all Virginians. That is why the General Assembly adopted them. The Governor tried to get the legislature to repeal the law and failed; he cannot just dictate a different outcome.”

In 2021, the General Assembly passed a law that requires Virginia to implement the Clean Cars Program. The provisions carrying out this directive went into effect in January 2024, During the rulemaking process, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) repeatedly represented that the standards would automatically update to maintain consistency with future changes to the Clean Cars Program, as is required by federal law.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, Virginia has only two options for tailpipe emissions standards: the federal standards developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or state standards developed by California. In 2021, the Virginia General Assembly decided to adopt—and maintain consistency with—the more protective state standards.

In the past the Attorney General has agreed that the statute requires adoption of the Clean Cars standards, saying that Virginia is “bound” to the standards because the state chose to be “statutorily and regulatorily aligned with California,” and that “an amendment or repeal of the mandating legislation” would be required to stop the regulatory program – yet today, the Governor, with the Attorney General flip-flopping on this issue, is asserting he can unilaterally override the law passed by the General Assembly.

“The Governor’s action is illegal,” said Pollard. “Virginia is not governed by fiat, and we will take every action to ensure the Clean Cars standards remain in place.”

Under the Clean Cars standards, auto manufacturers must deliver an increasing number of both cleaner gas-powered vehicles and zero-emission vehicles for sale in Virginia. Zero-emission vehicles include fully-electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) that have a gas-powered engine.

Transportation is the leading source of carbon pollution in Virginia, and most of that pollution comes from passenger cars and light-duty trucks that are now regulated by the Clean Cars standards. Minimizing and eliminating tailpipe pollution also reduces other harmful pollutants, like nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, which disproportionately impact communities of color and low-income communities. Adopting the Clean Cars standards is the most significant step Virginia has taken to reduce tailpipe pollution. (Additional information and source detail available here.)

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Press Contacts

Trip Pollard

Senior Attorney and Leader of the Land and Community Program

Phone: 804-343-1090