A green traffic signal.
Carol Lee Rawn is senior director for transportation at Ceres, a sustainability nonprofit organization working with investors and companies in Virginia and across the U.S. to build leadership and drive solutions throughout the economy.

Virginia lawmakers recently took an important step to embrace and accelerate the transition to clean and zero-emission vehicles. 

In the final days of the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers voted to adopt standards to make clean vehicles — including both more efficient gas-powered vehicles as well as electric vehicles (EVs) — more accessible in the commonwealth. In doing so, lawmakers heard the call of major companies in Virginia, as well as scores of environmental and consumer advocates, that support the standards. 

With clean car standards in place, it will be easier to purchase cleaner vehicles in Virginia, allowing all Virginians to reap a myriad of economic and health benefits. Currently, EVs are less available in Virginia than in neighboring states. For example, dealerships in Virginia have about half as many EVs available for sale compared to those in Maryland. This is because auto manufacturers have historically opted to prioritize selling EVs in states with clean car standards — and neighboring Maryland is one of 14 states with the standards already in place. 

Now, with more than a third of Virginians considering an EV for their next car, and more automakers announcing new EV models, Virginia is poised to take advantage of this market shift. With clean car standards, Virginia’s consumers will have the option to purchase an EV or a more efficient vehicle at a Virginia auto dealer — and Virginia’s economy will benefit as a result. 

The rising demand for EVs from companies and consumers is due to the environmental and economic benefits EVs offer. A recent MIT analysis found that not only are EVs better for the climate, but they are often cheaper than conventional vehicles over the long run due to lower fuel and maintenance costs. EVs, though technologically more advanced than gas-powered vehicles, are far simpler mechanically. They have fewer moving parts, which results in lower maintenance costs, reduced downtime and increased reliability. EVs can save drivers as much as $10,000 over the lifetime of the vehicle. 

For companies, more miles traveled translates to greater fuel cost savings, and fewer maintenance issues means greater dependability and predictability — all of which benefits their bottom line. And of course, more efficient conventional vehicles save companies and consumers money as well.

A group of major companies recently came together to form the Corporate Electric Vehicle Alliance to aggregate demand and demonstrate corporate interest in EVs. These companies have made it clear they need supportive policies at all levels of government to meet their climate goals and ensure that the EV transition takes hold. Clean car standards, rebates and incentives for electric vehicle purchases, investments in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and participation in the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program will all help drive the transition to electrification.

But it’s not just companies and vehicle owners that stand to gain from the transition to EVs — all Virginians will benefit from improved air quality. Gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles contribute to air pollution, which can greatly exacerbate asthma and other respiratory problems. More EVs on Virginia’s roads will mean cleaner air, which is especially important in the midst of the current pandemic. A recent nationwide study found that people living in areas with higher levels of air pollution are less likely to survive a COVID-19 infection than people living in cleaner parts of the country. 

Making the switch to clean vehicles is also critical to tackling the climate crisis. Virginia lawmakers passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act to eliminate carbon pollution from the electricity sector, and now Virginia is on its way to addressing the demand side of the equation as well. Transportation is responsible for nearly half of Virginia’s total carbon pollution, so clean car standards will go a long way to reducing carbon pollution and protecting the health of future generations. 

The Virginia General Assembly delivered a win for Virginia companies, the economy, and the health of its residents and the environment. We commend lawmakers for taking action to adopt clean car standards and ensure that Virginia will be at the forefront of the transition to clean vehicles.