Youngkin’s Attack on Virginia’s Cars Law Threatens Climate Progress

With the threat of climate change to Virginia’s coastal and inland communities, it is fitting that the Commonwealth is the leading Southern state in cutting its carbon emissions.

In addition to having to limit the dangers of now-regular extreme weather, climate action is an economic imperative that fiscal conservatives should embrace: Virginia’s coastal properties alone will experience $6 billion in climate damage — each year — from uncontrolled emissions. And Virginians agree to act: Climate change is the second-biggest concern among independent voters.

Yet Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) is only attacking climate progress, rather than finding common cause to tackle a challenge that both divides and unites Virginians while offering zero solutions.

Youngkin’s latest destructive salvo is his call to repeal a keystone climate law: Virginia’s Clean Cars initiative. The 18-state approach is simple: it cuts emissions by gradually moving states away from more expensive, polluting cars powered by expensive oil and toward cleaner cars powered by cheaper electricity (EVs, or EVs).

Youngkin’s anti-climate allies have pressed his attack, with nearly 10 repeal bills filed during the current legislative session in Richmond. Youngkin himself even personally prevented Virginia’s first electric car factory — Ford’s, no less — from being located in rural Virginia, even while each neighboring state has already landed two electric car plants each, one of which will be the largest auto plant in American history.

Youngkin’s antagonism is just plain wrong: not only is the Clean Cars Act itself popular, Youngkin willfully ignores the reality of the global auto market, not to mention the massive economic and health improvements the law will bring to Virginians. As such, his attack will fail.

First, the Clean Cars Act is Virginia’s most critical climate action to date: exhaust belching tailpipes are Virginia’s single largest carbon polluter. And under the federal Clean Air Act, Clean Cars is the only tool the Commonwealth can use to exercise its sovereign prerogative to deal with its biggest source of air pollution.

Clean Cars is also practical. In addition to being Virginia’s only auto-pollution reduction tool allowed to states under federal law, it taps into a massive, irreversible shift underway across the international auto market.

Automakers are locked in a global technology arms race to capture market share in what will soon be the only car game in town: electric. The race to go all-electric is an imminent technological tipping point, akin to the switch from landlines to smartphones a generation ago.

Major car manufacturers are proof that the EV tipping point is here: In the next two years, 1 in 3 car models will be fully electric. And in a little over a decade, most automakers — be it Chevy, Volvo, Audi, Buick — will be all-electric. You read that right: by 2035 or sooner, GM and many, many others will have completely ceased production of even a single gas-powered vehicle.

The Clean Cars Act simply ensures that Virginians benefit from this tectonic market shift sooner, not later. It will be a boon for families: EVs — bought used or new — free drivers from pain at the pump. Filling the tank with electricity induces reverse sticker shock (and joy): it costs only a third of what it costs today to fill up with gas.

And even without the $7,500 federal rebate for qualifying EVs, the upfront sticker price of new EVs in 2028 will likely be the same as gas-powered cars. From then on, any car buyer will be financially suicidal to drive a gasoline-powered vehicle off the lot.

But none of these basic facts matter to Youngkin. His presidential ambitions dictate that a cynical, “just say no” climate nihilism serves his own political interests, rather than seeking solutions that benefit his actual constituents—everyday Virginians.

But facts matter in Richmond, especially to lawmakers at the wheel of responsible governance.

Consequently, Virginians can rest assured that despite Youngkin’s no-attack on Virginia’s climate laws, the Commonwealth will continue to strive toward a cleaner, cheaper, and safer future.

By Walton Shepherd

This op-ed was originally published in the Virginian-Pilot.

Courtesy of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).




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