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Paulson: Cleaning up Virginia’s transportation pollution requires an all-hands-on-deck approach

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Virginia’s transportation pollution problem—and there’s a lot of it—isn’t attributable to any one person or one factor. And no individual person or single solution is going to eliminate the vehicle pollution that today represents nearly half of all CO2 pollution emitted in Virginia.

But we know that electric vehicles play a big role. I’ve been an early adopter. I purchased one of the first hybrid vehicles on the market in the US: the Honda Insight. Since that purchase in March 2000, I had a second hybrid and now a plug-in electric vehicle: a 2007 Chevy Volt. I’d like to see the rest of Virginia come along; and I know that transitioning to electric vehicles will require a host of innovative solutions.

The good news is that, right now, there are several bills in-play at the General Assembly that work together to set us on a path toward a cleaner, healthier transportation sector for all Virginians.

We know all Virginians deserve to breathe clean air. We know that 750 people die prematurely every year in Virginia because of transportation pollution. We know that kids in every corner of our state are riding in diesel fume-filled school buses. We know that Virginians living near high-traffic areas have higher rates of respiratory illness and that people of color are 3 times more likely to live in a county with a failing grade for unhealthy ozone days, particle pollution days and annual particle levels. Most importantly, we know that a transition to electric vehicles will dramatically improve the pollution-induced health concerns facing Virginians today. And we know it’s critical that meaningful steps are taken now before the problem gets worse.

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Getting Virginians access to affordable electric vehicles and charging infrastructure is fundamental to our transition to a cleaner transportation sector. Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, has introduced legislation (HB 1965) that would ensure that Virginia dealerships have a range of new and used electric vehicles available that their customers are already demanding, keeping dealership jobs and vehicle sales revenues in the Commonwealth.

More electric cars require more electric charging stations. While charging infrastructure is already being built out at a fast clip with money from the Volkswagen settlement and EVGo investments, a bill (SB 1223) being introduced by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, will help sustain this progress. Boysko also has the foresight to recognize the additional energy load that a transition to electric vehicles will bring about, as well. Boysko’s bill addresses this need, ensuring the right energy planning will be implemented to handle the load.

Getting all Virginians in cleaner cars requires addressing affordability issues, too. Even without rebates or tax credits, electric vehicles can save Virginians money on transportation. Saving the cost of gas at the pump, combined with lower maintenance costs, the total cost of owning an EV is less than a comparable fossil-fired vehicle. On top of those savings, Del. David Reid has introduced a bill providing a $2,500 rebate for the purchase or lease of new and used electric vehicles, plus $2000 more for income-qualifying customers.

Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, is introducing a bill (HB 2118) this session that would add just 5 cents per gallon to the cost of diesel—farmers being exempted—used by off-road equipment. This well may generate $10 million every year that could cover the cost of transitioning Virginia to a fully electric, pollution-free fleet of school buses.

Finally, to ensure appropriate preparation of the state’s electric vehicle transition, Del. Rip Sullivan is introducing HB 2282, which funds an SCC study to make sure the needs of all Virginians are met. The bill requires regulators to evaluate what policies are needed to govern electric utility programs in accelerating widespread transportation electrification, and it ensures that the process will incorporate public input, including from the state’s Division of Mines, Minerals and Energy, the Dept. of Environmental Quality and the Dept. of Transportation.

Virginia’s transportation pollution has created an all-hands-on-deck kind of problem, and we can be grateful that our leaders in the General Assembly are tackling it from all necessary angles. Any one of these bills alone is helpful. Passing them all will comprehensively address all aspects of Virginia’s transition to electric vehicles. It’s a multi-pronged approach to a multi-pronged issue—but no one bill works without Del. Bagby’s. It’s a lofty task with a worthy goal: get Virginians access to affordable, cleaner cars, trucks and buses so that we all have healthier air to breathe for generations to come.

Paulson is a Founding Member of Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action.

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