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

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

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

In addition to needing to contain the dangers of now-regularly extreme weather, climate action is an economic imperative, one fiscal conservatives should embrace: Virginia’s coastal real estate alone will see $6 billion in climate damage—every year—from unchecked emissions. And Virginians agree on taking action: climate change is the second-biggest concern among independent voters. 

Yet, rather than find common cause in tackling a challenge that both imperils and unites Virginians, Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) only attacks climate progress, all while offering zero solutions of his own. 

Youngkin’s latest destructive salvo is his call to repeal a keystone climate law: Virginia’s Clean Cars initiative. That 18-state approach is simple: it reduces emissions by gradually shifting states away from higher-cost, polluting cars fueled by expensive petroleum, over to cleaner cars fueled by lower-cost electricity (electric vehicles, or EVs). 

Youngkin’s anti-climate allies have obliged his attack, with nearly 10 repeal bills filed in the legislative session underway in Richmond. Youngkin himself even personally thwarted Virginia’s first EV-factory—Ford’s, no less—from locating in rural Virginia, even while every neighboring state has already landed two EV-factories apiece, one of which will be the largest auto factory in American history.

Youngkin’s antagonism is just dead-wrong: not only is the Clean Cars law itself popular, Youngkin is willfully ignoring the reality of the global auto market, not to mention the massive economic and health improvements the law will deliver to Virginians. As such, his attack will not succeed.

First, the Clean Cars law 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 address its biggest source of air pollution.

Clean Cars is also practical. In addition to being Virginia’s sole auto-pollution reduction tool permitted to states by federal law, it harnesses a massive, irreversible shift underway across the international auto-market. 

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

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

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

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

Yet, none of these bedrock 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 do matter in Richmond, especially to legislators at the wheel of responsible governance. 

Accordingly, Virginians can rest assured that, despite Youngkin’s naysaying attacks on Virginia’s climate laws, the Commonwealth will continue the drive to a cleaner, less costly, and more secure future.

About the Authors

Walton Shepherd

Virginia Policy Director, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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