It’s Time to Electrify Virginia’s Transportation

Overall auto emissions in major metro regions in Virginia are headed in the wrong direction. But incentivizing people to adopt electric vehicle technology could play a major role in reversing that trend.

Joe Rupp

Two recently released reports shed light on the biggest contributor to climate emissions in Virginia and what we can do to address it.

The New York Times recently released a map that illustrates regional auto emissions in major metropolitan regions throughout the country. Transportation accounts for 29 percent of all global warming emissions in the country and an even larger slice, 46 percent, in Virginia. As the report explains, urban and suburban regions across the country are home to some of the fastest-rising rates of auto emissions.

Major metropolitan regions in Virginia are no exception, with the Richmond metro area seeing a 62% increase in auto emissions since 1990 (+15% per capita) and Hampton Roads seeing a 32% increase in that same time period (+12% per capita). On the bright side, the DC Metro has seen a 6% drop on a per capita basis, though it too is headed in the wrong direction when it comes to its overall emissions having punched in at an increase of 39% since 1990.

A rise in overall and per capita emissions really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Vehicle Miles Traveled has risen consistently in Virginia over the past decades (up 18% from 2001 to 2018 according to VDOT’s annual mileage reports). Not to mention, American’s penchant for buying fuel-inefficient trucks and SUVs, and anemic investment by state and local authorities into alternate modes of transportation, including transit and multi-modal projects. To make matters worse, the Trump Administration’s attempts to roll back California’s ability to set more stringent emissions standards (and other state’s ability to adopt them) promises to move us further in the wrong direction.

So what can be done? Turns out there are some compelling solutions.

A study released by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy highlights the benefits of electrifying our transportation sector. The 70-page report is a doozy, so let me pull one line of the report for you:

“A shift to electric cars and trucks (80% of light- and 45% of heavy-duty vehicles) and continued fuel economy gains under new standards could cut vehicle carbon dioxide emissions in 2050 by about 50%.” 

In Virginia, that would mean cutting nearly a quarter of our overall carbon emissions simply through the adoption of cleaner and more fuel efficient cars and trucks. Mind you, this report was in the final stages of publication before the recent Executive Order from Ralph Northam that aims to put Virginia on a path for 100% zero carbon electricity by 2050. If achieved, that would mean the emissions tied to EV adoption would drop even further.

Other pieces of the puzzle are key, including dedicated funding to transit projects, embracing rideshare, providing incentives for people to get out of their cars altogether and instead opt for walking and biking and embracing smart growth policies and tools in planning districts throughout the state.

But it’s clear that electrifying the cars, trucks and buses that Virginians use every day has to be a priority if we’re going to truly combat the climate crisis.


Joe Rupp