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Advocates, Lawmakers Set To Introduce Vehicle Emissions Reforms

Car charging
An electric car charging in Europe. (Photo: Mike)

Transportation emissions accounted for nearly half of Virginia’s carbon pollution in 2017, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration

Now, some lawmakers and advocacy groups in Virginia are looking for ways to reduce vehicle emissions. But there’s a catch: California is the only state in the nation that may craft stricter standards than federal ones, thanks to a provision of the federal Clean Air Act

But other states, like Virginia, are allowed to sign on to California’s rules. 

This means, among other things, that the commonwealth would have to enact the Low-Emission Vehicle and Zero Emission Vehicle programs created by California. 

The LEV program governs emissions standards, while the ZEV program requires manufacturers to send a certain number of all-electric cars to dealerships. That number increases over time.

The zero emission program is what environmental non-profit Generation180 is advocating for, says Stuart Gardner, who is working to bring the Golden State’s standards to the Old Dominion.

Gardner says a market survey by Generation180 shows there’s high demand for electric vehicles  in Virginia, but more aren’t being sold here because they’re just not available to potential buyers.

“They say, ‘You know, it was really hard to find an electric vehicle in Virginia.’ Either the dealer didn’t have them at all, or maybe had one, or the dealer even said ‘Go to Maryland,’” Gardner said.

Maryland has adopted California’s standards. Research by Generation180 also shows that, despite being a smaller market for cars, Virginia’s neighbor to the north has more EVs for sale. 

“You know, manufacturers are experts at distribution and they’re gonna send those electric vehicles to the states where they’re required to sell it, ” Gardner said. “And any state that’s not a ZEV member isn’t going to get those cars.”

The Virginia Auto Dealers Association sent a letter to lawmakers saying they support EV adoption, but recommended they take a year to study and prepare for LEV and ZEV programs in Virginia.

In the letter, VADA president Donald Hall said that auto dealers are preparing to sell more EVs as more enter the market. He said bringing them in without taking time to build consumer interest would result in lower sales.

“Virginia does not have any consumer vehicle purchase or infrastructure incentives in place to increase the adoption of EVs,” he wrote.

Hall also argues that the state needs time to build EV infrastructure, particularly a network of charging stations.

Lawmakers have attempted to address some of those concerns in their proposals, which haven’t been filed at the time of publication. 

Del. David Reid (R-Loudoun County) is sponsoring a consumer incentive bill that would offer point-of-sale rebates to EV buyers, with additional cash going to families within 300% of the federal poverty line. For a family of three, that’s a household income capped at about $65,000.

Reid spoke at an EV-centered town hall hosted by Generation180. He said the rebate is an attempt to make up for the cost difference between gas cars and EVs.

“So the idea is that we want to make this affordable to a broad spectrum of the community,” he said.

And Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-10), who supports the legislation, says she sees EV legislation as an “opportunity to grow more manufacturing, and to grow technology jobs.”

Hashmi said she wants to see training programs in community colleges to prepare a new workforce to take on jobs like installing charging stations around the state.

Legislators will consider these bills in the upcoming General Assembly session, which convenes on January 13.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.
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