The Basics

Last week, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that, effective January 1, 2025, Virginia will exit a California-led electric vehicle (EV) mandate and will instead comply with less stringent federal guidelines. The announcement followed Attorney General (AG) Jason Miyares’ issuance of an official advisory opinion concluding, as a matter of law, that Virginia is not beholden to broad, recently passed mandates adopted by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which were also set to take effect at the start of the new year.

Auto manufacturers and sellers in Virginia will no longer have to comply with forthcoming California emissions rules that would have required, beginning in 2025, a certain percentage of new cars sold in the Commonwealth to operate solely as EVs rather than gas-power vehicles. Instead, new car sellers anywhere in Virginia will be bound only to federal guidelines, which the California mandate previously superseded.

The Details

Federal law permits states to promulgate their own emission rules in lieu of federal requirements as long as the state rules are “at least as protective of public health and welfare as applicable Federal standards.”[i] Pursuant to that rule, California has created its own regulatory regime separate from that required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). At present, California is the only approved federal exception. The same federal rule also allows other states to follow federally approved state regimes in lieu of the federal guidelines. In 2021, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation permitting the Commonwealth’s Air Board to adopt and apply California’s emissions rules as its own.

Because the previous framework was set to sunset at the end of 2024, the CARB recently adopted a new, more rigorous plan that requires 35% of new cars sold in model year 2026 to be EVs.[ii] Under the CARB framework, by model year 2035 and beyond, 100% of new cars sold must be EVs. All other states that have adopted the California regime will be bound by that decision. Among other things, the new plan includes potentially steep financial penalties for noncompliant manufacturers and sellers.[iii]

Governor Youngkin’s decision releases the Virginia Air Board from its commitment to adopt and apply the CARB’s new rules.[iv] As a result, Virginia will now follow only the federal emissions standards set by the EPA. The EPA also recently announced new federal emissions guidelines for model years 2027 and beyond[v] designed to help reduce emissions, but they are less stringent than the California program. The EPA’s plan does not completely phase out all gas-powered vehicles.[vi] The Commonwealth, along with 25 other states, is separately challenging the new EPA rule in federal court.

Why It Matters

The announcement represents a stark departure from the previous requirements applicable to automakers and sellers throughout the Commonwealth. There is now little incentive to rapidly shift production priorities toward EVs beyond what the market organically demands. According to the governor’s office, only 9% of vehicles sold in Virginia in 2023 were electric.

Separately, AG Miyares’ opinion also marks a willingness to challenge regulatory requirements the governor or AG view as overly intrusive at both state and federal levels. The vehicle market is likely not the only industry that will experience lightened regulatory requirements in the future.

Additional articles on state AG offices in the environmental space include:

[i] 42 U.S.C. § 7543(b)(1).

[ii] The term “model year” is not defined in the Virginia Code, see generally Va. Code Ann. §§ 10.1‑1300, 10.1-1307.05 (West 2022), but it generally refers to the designated model of vehicle, not the calendar year in which that vehicle is put on the market. Typically, a vehicle’s model year is one year greater than the calendar year in which it is released to the market. So, legislation set to take effect in January of 2025 will impact vehicles sold as model year 2026.

[iii] In its announcement, the governor’s office claimed the penalties could near $20,000 per violation, potentially resulting in “hundreds of millions of dollars” in losses to manufacturers, dealers, and consumers. See also Va. Code Ann. §§ 10.1309, 10.1309.1 (West 2022).

[iv] No parties have filed a lawsuit challenging the withdrawal, but it is possible the withdrawal will be litigated in the future.

[v] See Multi-Pollutant Emissions Standards for Model Years 2027 and Later Light-Duty and Medium-Duty Vehicles, 89 Fed. Reg. 27842 (Apr. 18, 2024).

[vi] The new federal standards are estimated to make 67% of the new vehicle market EVs by 2032.