Gov. Glenn Youngkin on ditching Calif. emissions standards: ‘Virginians should be able to decide what car they buy’

In a potential blow to the push to get more people to buy electric cars, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin says the Commonwealth’s strict auto emission standards — based on California legislation — will be lifted by the end of the year.

The governor says Virginians deserve to choose which vehicles fit their needs and the idea of the government telling people what kind of car they can buy is, in his words “fundamentally wrong.”

Youngkin joined WTOP to discuss his decision on the emissions standards and also provided an update on damage from a round of severe storms in Northern Virginia.

Listen to the full interview below.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin discusses his decision on auto emission standards

The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

John Aaron: Governor, great to talk to you this morning. If I could just jump right in here, the question that a lot of people are asking is what specifically gives you the authority to make this move?

Gov. Glenn Youngkin: Well, first of all, good morning, and thank you for having me. And before we talk about anything, I want to thank our veterans and military today on the 80th commemoration of D-Day and what true heroism is all about. So to all of our vets and all of our military heroes: Thank you

With regards to our transition from being held to the California standards to being held to the national standards, the California original standards will sunset at the end of this year, Dec. 31, 2024. And we are choosing to, in fact, be held to the national standards, as opposed to the California standards. And it really gets back to three key reasons. Number one, the California standards mandate what kind of car you buy. And in fact, Virginians should be able to decide what car they buy. (The standards) would, in fact, increase the mandated percentage of car purchases to 35% EVs in 2026. And let’s just be clear, this past year 9% of the cars that were purchased in Virginia were electric vehicles.

It’s misguided and unrealistic to mandate. It will drive costs, which is the second big topic, which is Virginians should not be forced to incur a substantial penalty, because they want to exercise their freedom to decide what car they buy. And in fact, the penalties are huge. It’s estimated that it would cost Virginians $1.2 billion in order to buy these mandated number of cars. And on top of that, if they didn’t, then there’s $1.8 billion dollars of penalties that could be imposed on them.

And then finally — and this is really important — these are decisions that Virginians should make. And what happened in 2021 is our General Assembly and the former governor surrendered the right to make decisions for Virginians to an unelected body in California. And so the reality, of course, here is that we are reestablishing the role that Virginia’s government should play, serving Virginians. We’re reestablishing Virginians’ rights to decide what kind of car they drive. And finally, we’re recognizing the economic penalty that was so unfairly placed on Virginians.

Now, let me just make one last comment. We will be subject to the federal standards. The federal standards that have come out are incredibly aggressive to reduce emissions. It’s going to be done on a fleet-wide basis. And therefore, innovation that has been the hallmark of the American automotive industry will continue to drive reduction in emissions.

People will have the ability to buy an electric vehicle. This is not an attack on electric vehicles. It’s just a recognition that Virginians need to decide what they want to drive. If you want to buy electric vehicle, please buy one. If you want to buy a hybrid, please buy one. If you want to buy an internal combustion gas engine, please buy one. You’ll see that fuel economy is increasing substantially. And therefore the overall federal standards will be what Virginia will be required to adhere to, and I think this is great for the Commonwealth.

John Aaron: You make many good points. But Democrats say you’re overreaching and can’t undo state law here.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin: Well, that’s just wrong. And the attorney general’s opinion is extremely clear that the ACC I standards, which are the California standards that we have been subjected to, sunset at the end of the year. It’s very clear in code — the law is the law — that in fact their air board may choose to adhere to federal standards or California standards. And we’re gonna allow the ACC I standards and California to sunset. And going forward, we will be subjected to the federal standards. It’s very clear. There’s no question here. And I’m sorry that it doesn’t fit their narrative, but the attorney general’s opinion is incredibly clear. That’s the law.

Michelle Basch: And governor, briefly, before we let you go. Can you speak to any storm damage that you’re hearing about after yesterday’s apparent twisters?

Gov. Glenn Youngkin: So the short answer is the emergency management team is responding quickly. There’s been some power outages. I’m always incredibly proud of the immediate work that our Virginia statewide emergency management team does in coordination with utilities particularly. And we’re gathering all that information and will be able to report back a comprehensive view. But, first and foremost, we’re rushing to the support of those that might have incurred some damage and on top of that lost power. The utilities are responding very quickly. And we’ve just lift everybody up this morning in prayer to make sure that everybody is OK … The response has been coordinated. And I’ll get a full brief later this morning once all the data is in.

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