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The national average for greenhouse gas production from transportation is 28% and the average for Virginia is 48.5%.

Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action (VCCA) released a transportation report last fall that highlighted the connection between transportation, air pollution and the health of Virginia’s residents. Because of this, nine Virginia cities — including Harrisonburg — united to show support for House Bill 1965.

HB 1965, which was sponsored by Delegate Lamont Bagby, passed in the general assembly Feb. 19 and is waiting for Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to sign it. The bill will require that a “small percentage of each manufacturer’s annual sales of new light-duty vehicles in the state qualify as electric or hybrid electric vehicles.” This standard would go into effect for vehicles with a model year of 2025 and later. According to Virginia’s Legislative Information System, this bill won’t be implemented prior to Jan. 1, 2024.  

A press release written by the Community Climate Collaborative (C3) said the transportation report found that “Virginia could significantly reduce healthcare costs by implementing low and zero emissions vehicle standards.” 

Bob Kitchen, vice-chair of advocacy at VCCA, said the national average for greenhouse gas production that comes from transportation is 28%. The average in Virginia is 48.5%. 

We were able to show the adverse health impact of that particular pollution and actually quantified the number of deaths and other illnesses and respiratory problems that happened in Virginia because of this source of transportation-associated pollution,” Kitchen said.

In a press release, Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed said clean transportation is essential to ensuring “future prosperity” for all Virginia residents.

“It is so important that these efforts to protect our community’s environmental health are made available to every resident no matter their economic means,” Reed said.

Susan Kruse, executive director of C3, said transportation emissions are highly detrimental to low-income communities and minorities because the majority of highways and road development projects are typically built around them. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a definition for what it calls “social vulnerability.” Factors that would consider someone socially vulnerable include socioeconomic status, household composition, poverty and disability. Kitchen said that in Virginia, socially vulnerable populations ­­­­— people who fall into the factors listed above — have a 61% higher death rate from air pollution than communities with little vulnerability. 

“As with many things, it costs a lot more to be poor,” Kruse said. “The same is true for transportation.”

Kruse said not having access to cleaner, more efficient vehicles leads to spending more money on fuel and maintenance.

“This is a transportation burden that many low-income residents experience in Virginia,” Kruse said.

To combat this issue, Kruse said that other legislation has passed to support HB 1965, which provides a state-level rebate program for people who want to purchase an electric vehicle. Although this program was passed by the general assembly, lawmakers didn’t include the funding needed to bring down the vehicles’ cost for consumers, according to NBC. 

“With only nine years now to reach a 45% reduction in order to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, we couldn’t wait another year for this legislation to pass,” Kruse said.

Lena Lewis, energy and climate policy manager at the Nature Conservancy Virginia chapter, said that lack of access and financial burdens are the main reasons why HB 1965 will be beneficial in Virginia.

“It is hard to find electric vehicles at a lot of Virginia dealerships,” Lewis said. “There have been some cases where dealers have said ‘Look, I’d love to be able to sell you that car, but the manufacturer won’t send it to me.’”

She said some people who are persistent will travel to Maryland to buy an electric car because it’s one of the states that already has electric vehicle standards in place. 

“For other customers who don’t have this flexibility, they just go ahead and buy a gas-powered vehicle and, environmentally, that’s a loss,” Lewis said.

Lewis also said she’s optimistic that the price difference between gas-powered vehicles and electric vehicles will drop within the next three to four years. She said the lifetime cost of owning an electric vehicle is already lower than the lifetime cost of owning a gas-powered car because owners don’t have to pay for gas, and the maintenance for electric vehicles costs less.

“Those are the vehicles that are going to become easier to buy in Virginia thanks to this legislation,” Lewis said.

Kitchen said the effort of creating the transportation report has paid off and that it’s been rewarding to see the general assembly focus on trying to deal with climate change.

“It’s a new day in the dominion,” Kitchen said. 

Tony Wilt was contacted and was unable to provide a statement in accordance with The Breeze’s deadline. The online version of this article will be updated with Wilt’s statement. 

Contact Isabela Gladston at gladstia@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.