GOP lawmakers want a say on Ohio’s vehicle emission standards

The bill blocks state agencies or local governments from adopting California’s heightened standards

By: - October 9, 2023 4:50 am

A new Chevrolet Bolt EVU sits on the sales lot. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Ohio House Transportation Committee advanced a measure last week asserting legislative control over clean air standards. The proposal preempts local governments and state agencies from adopting more restrictive vehicle emission standards.


Under the Clean Air Act, California can impose higher emission standards than the federal government. Currently, California demands at least 35% of new car sales be zero emission or hyrid beginning in 2026. By 2035 all passenger cars and trucks must be zero emission vehicles, with medium and heavy-duty vehicles switching over by 2045.

California is the only state in the country with a waiver to establish its own standards. However, other states may voluntarily adopt California’s requirements.

House Bill 201, sponsored by Reps. Brett Hudson Hillyer, R-Ulrichsville, and Steve Demetriou, R-Bainbridge Township, bars any local government or executive agency from taking that step on their own.

“The legislation that’s in front of today is just asserting the role of the legislature in setting that plan,” Committee chairman, Rep. Riordan McClain, R-Upper Sandusky, said. “This is saying that no government entity is going to unilaterally make this decision and make Ohio consumers meet whatever the dictate may be — whatever vehicle propulsion type it is.”

“It’s saying that they’re not going to sign Ohio up just to follow California’s lead,” he added.

Questions about the bill’s necessity remain because the Clean Air Act allows states — not local governments — to adopt California’s emission standards. And with Republican Gov. Mike DeWine leading Ohio through 2026, heightened emission standards seem unlikely in the short term.

McClain, however, argued for locking in the legislature’s position in case a future administration takes a different tack.

“States like Virginia and others have adopted the California, signed themselves up for this provision, where the executive branch acts without the directive of the legislature to pursue this path.”

In actuality, Virginia adopted vehicle emission standards through the legislature. Since then, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has attempted, unsuccessfully, to repeal that legislation.

Supporters’ take

Rep. Juanita Brent, D-Cleveland, sounded puzzled. “Where’s the threat at?” she asked. “Like where’s there an active threat?

The proposal’s supporters — oil refineries, fuel companies and the construction trades — argued vehicle standards are so great a threat that lawmakers should actively block a hypothetical future change.

Scott Hayes, from refining company PBF Energy, argued the regulations — which apply to new vehicles — will fall most heavily on the poor. He insisted those changes trickle down to the used car market in the form of diminished supply.

“When you talk to the auto (makers),” he argued, “they will tell you, we’re just going to shed brands to meet with this demand because it is unachievable.”

He added that refiners like his company make numerous products beyond fuel. “Detergent shampoos, medicine makeup plastics, your iPhone, the interiors of electric vehicles,” Hayes rattled off.

“If you pursue policies to shut down refineries like ours, and we don’t have the confidence of the investors to invest in our place,” he insisted, “there’s going to be an effect on refining capacity. And I’m telling you there will be an effect on supply chains.”

Brent was unmoved. Why should lawmakers set policy based on his business’s balance sheet, she asked. Hayes argued petrochemical production is Ohio’s third biggest industry and they’re deeply embedded in a wide array of other companies.

In allusion to House Bill 6 — the proposal that bailed out a pair of First Energy nuclear plants and landed former House Speaker Larry Householder in prison on corruption charges — Brent reiterated her skepticism.

“You’re talking about a company, and I mean we’ve already tried to save one company and that blew up in our face — I didn’t vote for that,” she said. “But we’ve seen what happens when we try to save companies.”

The measure advances

While fossil fuel interests threw their support behind the measure, no environmental organizations weighed in. One member of the public spoke in opposition Tuesday, contending the state should be taking steps to embrace electric vehicles instead.

Matthew Szollosi who heads up the Affiliated Construction Trades, argued the transition to EVs has been a boon for his members. But they work on plants producing internal combustion engines as well. “We want to see all of them flourish,” he said.

The committee voted along party lines to advance the measure.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.



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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.