Federalism, Virginia, and Electric Vehicles

In 2021, the Virginia legislature passed a law tying the state’s decision-making authority on vehicle emissions standards to California’s Air Resource Board (CARB). Intended or unintended, the consequences of this voluntary abrogation of sovereignty will cause significant problems for Virginians. 

“I think this is just an absurd moment where legislators who were elected by Virginians, a governor was elected by Virginians, put in a law that abdicates their responsibility to make these decisions for Virginians,” said Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin in an interview.

Operating under the direct orders of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, CARB, an unelected body of bureaucrats, voted in August to phase out gas-powered vehicles by 2035. As a result of Virginia’s 2021 bill, the sale of gas-powered vehicles will also be banned, unless the state overturns the law.

Historically, California has enforced significantly higher emissions standards than other states. CARB states this is necessary for a coastal state with significant geological features that, when combined with the atmospheric dynamics created with the colder waters along the Pacific, traps pollutants, putting California’s air quality at significantly higher risk than most other areas of the country. This also led to California retaining a carve-out in the Federal Air Quality Act of 1967 to set more stringent air quality rules than the federal standards.

Virginia does not have those same problems, and less than 2% of all vehicle sales in the state last year were electric, as opposed to 16% in California, which makes this standard all the more difficult to follow.

The concept of federalism is that localities should come up with their own solutions to their own problems. By delegating the state’s decision-making authority to another state’s unelected bureaucrats thousands of miles away, Virginia’s previous crop of elected leaders created an enormous problem for the state with the announcement of this new CARB rule made without the consideration of the interests and needs of Virginians.

Ironically, just days after CARB announced the ban, grid operators asked Californians to reduce their energy usage – including charging electric vehicles – due to the prospect of rolling blackouts.

“California, who has shown themselves inept in managing their own state, why in the world, would we import their laws into Virginia?” said Gov. Youngkin

 This may serve as a wake-up call to Virginia and other states that have considered copying California. 

Additionally, when legislatures go back into session, state lawmakers can consider the principles outlined in ALEC’s Resolution Supporting Equal Tax Treatment For All Vehicles. This policy calls for the equalization of tax treatment of different vehicle types, allowing for electric vehicles to also contribute to the federal Highway Trust Fund. 

In Depth: Energy

It is difficult – and perhaps even impossible – to overstate the relationship between readily available access to safe, affordable and reliable energy and individual prosperity and economic wellbeing. This is because energy is an input to virtually everything we produce, consume and enjoy in society. Think for a minute…

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