Despite Temper Tantrum, Youngkin Cannot Reverse Va's Climate Progress

Youngkin's latest, senseless attack on a keystone climate law, Clean Cars, like his attack on RGGI, is divorced from the facts and the law, and will not stand.

Emissions from the tailpipe of a car.

Youngkin's self-serving political attack on Clean Cars would worsen air pollution and climate change. Thankfully, Clean Cars is the law of the land.

Credit: Alex Ishchenko/iStock

There he goes again.

Despite the recent reminder to our nation that no chief executive is above the law or exempt from the judiciary system, Gov. Youngkin continues apace in his lawless, reckless—and ultimately feckless—attempts to trample upon Virginia’s monumental progress in tackling dangerous and costly climate change.

Contradicting his own and the Attorney General’s previous statements, he bizarrely pronounced today that he can now wave a magic wand and dictatorially erase from the books Virginia’s landmark Clean Cars law. In doing so, Youngkin again belied his claim to be a law-and-order Governor: he is now on track to illegally blow through another constitutional redlight. Passed into statute by the legislature in 2021, the sensible Clean Cars law joins with the over 1 in 5 American states to exercise Virginia’s own sovereign option, under the federal Clean Air Act, to increase consumer access to cleaner, cheaper-to-drive electric vehicles (EVs). Greater access to those cars here in Virginia is essential, not just to provide relief from gas prices (EVs cost about half as much to drive as gas vehicles), but also to tackle Virginia’s largest source of climate-busting air pollution: car and truck tailpipes.

But cleaner Virginia air doesn’t matter to Big Oil chum Glenn Youngkin. 

Nor, for that matter, does the rule of law: Youngkin has pulled this stunt before. Last time, it was with Virginia’s popular Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative law (RGGI). Similarly, he then also claimed, out of thin air, that he is somehow mysteriously endowed with an “executive authority” to erase a law that he and his polluter allies don’t like (rather than follow the customary, constitutional path of going through the people’s house – the General Assembly). After following a tortuous path through a variety of confused administrative smoke-and-mirrors, his extra-legal attack on RGGI finally landed him in court where he belongs. And that is where his fiat-style attack on RGGI awaits its rightful legal judgement from the bedrock institution designed to protect our constitutional order: the judiciary.

Youngkin’s Cynical Series of Climate Attacks Contradict Virginia Law—And Even Himself

An unmistakable pattern in Youngkin has now emerged: he simply exclaims, willy-nilly, that he has a sudden authority, unique to his governorship, to erase this or that environmental law aimed at averting costly climate disaster. What’s unique with Clean Cars is that Youngkin himself and the Attorney General’s office, already acknowledged long ago they cannot legally touch it without action by the legislature. In attacking this climate law, like attacking RGGI before it, it is now clear that Youngkin does not care that the long arm of the law will, slowly but surely, stop his unlawful actions—but likely only after he’s left office and sailed on to his next, Fox News-fueled political aspiration. 

How deeply cynical. 

Youngkin is knowingly shredding not one but two constitutionally-passed laws, having calculated that our legal system moves just slowly and deliberately enough that his actions won’t be slapped back down by the courts, until after, in just 18 months, he is long gone from Richmond. Leaving that kind of legal mess behind, one that only increases Virginia’s air pollution in the meantime while his dictator-like actions are under court review, reveals Youngkin’s contempt for all Virginians, and for fundamental American democratic principles.

As loathsome as Youngkin’s contempt is, of the most immediate relevance to the Governor’s pronouncement today is how wrong he is on the simple fact that he cannot repeal standing Virginia law. Most notable, the Governor’s announcement today directly contradicts himself and the Attorney General’s office: they have both themselves already repeatedly stated, correctly, that Clean Cars is binding, and the settled law of the land. Attorney General Miyares’s office years ago already declared—correctly—that only a legislatively-passed “amendment or repeal” of the Clean Cars law can accomplish Youngkin’s goal of gutting it. 

And Governor Youngkin himself has repeatedly echoed that legally-sound assessment. His own Energy Plan, for example, acknowledge two years ago that Clean Cars is “statutorily mandated” in Virginia. Earlier this year his last State of the Commonwealth speech, Youngkin correctly stated that to change the Clean Cars law, the General Assembly must “pass a bill.” 

Sure enough, his legislative allies, following basic democratic governance, indeed tried again—and failed—to “pass a bill,” three years in a row, to repeal the Clean Cars law. Having not gotten what he asked for there, in the peoples’ General Assembly, several years in a row, Youngkin’s announcement today simply amounts to a governmental version of a temper tantrum.

But Youngkin’s tantrum today ignores another simple fact: Youngkin’s own administration finalized the binding Clean Cars regulations: earlier this year, as required by law, Youngkin himself approved the Clean Cars legislation and sent it to the Registrar to be published. Given that Youngkin himself so recently followed the law by ratifying the Clean Cars regulation, his blustering today rings all the more hollow.

But clearly none of these bedrock facts or basic civics-101 principles matter to Youngkin. With first his unilateral RGGI attack and now his Clean Cars attack, he’s decided that his cynical, “just say no” climate nihilism serves his own narrow political and personal interests best, rather than seeking any real solution that might benefit his actual constituents—everyday Virginians. 

The Clean Cars Facts Even Youngkin Can’t Ignore: Achievable, Cheaper, & Cleaner

Youngkin’s destructive, cynical selfishness is just too bad, because here are the actual facts on Clean Cars that Youngkin deliberately ignores.

First, Virginia car dealers are already well on the way to meeting the Clean Cars’ commonsense requirements for greater EV availability to Virginians. In fact, according to industry data, Virginia car dealers are already ahead of the Clean Cars schedule, having already sold last year even more EVs than they must offer for sale in 2024.

With more EVs on car-lots and in our driveways, under Clean Cars Virginians will enjoy significantly lower driving costs: a “full tank” in an EV often costs about half as much as filling up on gasoline, and that’s before sharp gas price spikes at the pump. And now that the federal “cash-on-the-hood” rebates of up to $7,500 are here to stay, EVs on the car lot will continue to get steadily cheaper.

Filling the tank with electricity is also getting easier every day, with new EV chargers continuously coming online. And while most charging happens overnight when EVs are parked at home, here in Virginia a statewide network of fast chargers, regularly-spaced along interstate highways was recently approved, for easier charging on-the-go all across the commonwealth.

But the best news of all, left out of all of Youngkin’s anti-climate harangues and tantrums, is for climate change. With car and truck tailpipes Virginia’s biggest air polluter, Virginia’s Clean Cars law is our very best off-the-shelf solution to stem the rising tide of climate change. So no matter what Youngkin’s factually- and legally-challenged attacks might say, he’s wrong, on both the law and the facts. 

That puts him on the wrong side of Virginia’s best interests. Virginia is not for pollution lovers, especially ones that, like Youngkin, fancy themselves as above the law. And that is doubly so in the Virginia commonwealth, with its proud, enduring state motto: Sic Semper Tyrannis.

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