RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Senate Democrats voted down a Republican effort backed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin to repeal the adoption of California vehicle emissions standards that will ban new gas vehicles from being sold by 2035.
Four bills sponsored by Republican state senators to keep the state from moving forward with California’s rules came before the Virginia Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.
Virginia lawmakers passed a law in 2021 requiring the State Air Pollution Control Board to implement low-emissions and zero-emissions vehicle standards, tying the state to the rules approved by California regulators.
The measure, passed when Democrats controlled the General Assembly, aimed to help combat climate change concerns by compelling manufacturers to shift to low or zero-emission vehicles.
Under California’s tailpipe emissions regulations, new cars, pickup trucks and SUVs would need to be electric or use hydrogen by 2035. The rules would also require zero-emission vehicles to make up 35% of vehicles sold by Virginia manufacturers by 2026, a target that state Sen. Stephen D. Newman (R-Bedford) called unreachable.
The rules, which will take effect in Virginia by next year, won’t stop people from driving the gas-powered cars they already own or from purchasing used cars.
“We are planning to fail,” Sen. Newman said when presenting his bill to the Democratic-controlled committee Tuesday.
Democrats on the committee, including state Sens. Jennifer McClellan (Richmond) and Ghazala Hashmi (Chesterfield), stressed on Tuesday that several major car manufacturers have already set targets to phase out gas-powered vehicles.
“This transition is coming, it’s coming, it’s coming sooner than a lot of people thought two years ago,” Sen. McClellan said, adding that Virginia lawmakers could either find ways to support the move or “put our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not happening.”
Democrats also noted that Virginia cannot approve its own set of standards — as Gov. Youngkin and some Republicans have suggested — but can only adopt federal regulations or California’s rules under the Clear Air Act.
Republicans argued that electric vehicles are too expensive for most Virginia households and that supply chain concerns would make reaching the goals “unachievable.”
The four bills put forward by Republicans during the committee hearing were consolidated into Newman’s legislation. After public testimony, the committee voted to pass the bill by indefinitely — which effectively kills the measure — in a party-line vote.
A similar bill from Del. Tony Wilt (R-Rockingham) is still alive in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, where it is expected to pass, but it would need to advance out the state Senate to be enacted.