Glenn Youngkin Withdraws Virginia From California's Electric Vehicle Mandate

Youngkin's administration says the state will adhere to federal emissions standards beginning in 2025.


On Wednesday, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, announced that at the end of the year, the state would no longer comply with California's electric vehicle (E.V.) mandate.

"The idea that government should tell people what kind of car they can or can't purchase is fundamentally wrong," Youngkin said in a statement. "Virginians deserve the freedom to choose which vehicles best fit the needs of their families and businesses. The law is clear, and I am proud to announce Virginians will no longer be forced to live under this out-of-touch policy."

California first adopted its Advanced Clean Cars (ACC) standard in 2012. The rules required automakers to gradually increase sales of zero-emission vehicles as a percent of total sales in California, culminating in an 8-percent share in 2025. Plug-in hybrids, which use both electric and gas-powered motors, counted for partial credit toward the total.

The Virginia General Assembly passed House Bill 1965 in 2021, which directed the State Air Pollution Control Board to adopt low-emission and zero-emission vehicle standards equivalent to California's. The bill was signed into law by then-Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, whose support helped guarantee the bill's passage. Virginia is among 18 states and the District of Columbia that have adopted some or all of California's regulations.

But the following year, California adopted Advanced Clean Cars II, which greatly expanded the requirements of the original standard. Under the new rules, the zero-emission requirement would jump from 8 percent of automaker's sales for model year 2025 all the way to 35 percent in 2026, increasing each year until 100 percent of all new vehicles sold for model year 2035 must be electric.

The following day, Youngkin and the Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates indicated their intent to repeal H.B. 1965 and uncouple the state from California's rules, but the Democrat-controlled state Senate squashed their efforts the following year. In the 2023 elections, Democrats regained control of the House of Delegates while keeping control of the Senate, and the state Senate once again defeated efforts to repeal the law in January 2024.

Ultimately, California's more aggressive rules provided the legal justification for Virginia's withdrawal. Youngkin's press release claims that H.B. 1965 merely authorized the state to follow Advanced Clean Cars I, the rules in place at the time that went through 2025. "An opinion from Attorney General Jason Miyares confirms the law, as written, does not require Virginia to follow ACC II," the press release continues. "Therefore, the Commonwealth will follow federal emissions standards on January 1, 2025."

"We are alarmed that Governor Youngkin thinks that he is above the law," Nicole Vaughan, communications director for the Virginia Conservation Network, tells Reason in a statement. "Legislation passed in 2021 directs Virginia's Air Pollution Control Board to adopt Advanced Clean Cars and subsequent updates to the program. In doing so, Virginia exercised an option under the federal Clean Air Act to follow the more stringent standards adopted by California and several other states to address tailpipe pollution."

"Virginia's legislature chose to adopt Clean Car Standards in order to increase consumers' access to electric vehicles, improve our air quality, and save lives," Wyatt Gordon, senior policy manager for land use and transportation at the Virginia Conservation Network, told Reason in a statement. "To unilaterally pull our Commonwealth out of these shared standards is undemocratic, short-sighted, and wrong for Virginia."

The federal standards, released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in March, are less stringent than California's but still anticipate that by 2035, more than 70 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. would be all-electric or hybrids. Even this is a daunting prospect, as E.V.s currently account for only 6.5 percent of all vehicles sold in the U.S.