The Politics: Can American “diplomacy” swing a total auto overhaul?
With the current state of paralysis in Washington, D.C., and a partisan gap wider than ever, it seems like a big ask to pass the legislation that’s needed to usher in electric vehicles in the future. But you might be surprised to learn that Democrats and Republicans haven’t sounded quite so far apart on EVs lately. For one, EVs have gone from being an ecological issue to one of national security.
“We’re behind the rest of the world in a major way when it comes to EVs, and the U.S. doesn’t like to be behind on key technologies— so there is some consensus growing, and both sides are recognizing that we’re not the leaders right now on this,” says Dr. John Paul Helveston, an assistant professor of engineering management at George Washington University. The main concern: China currently controls 75 percent of the battery manufacturing capacity, along with nearly 100 percent of the material refining that goes into those batteries. “It presents a deep vulnerability for the U.S.,” says Helveston, who adds that the situation could be seen as comparable to the oil crisis of the 1970s, which revealed the U.S.’s over-reliance on access to oil in the Middle East.
Other forces are at work, too. As a New York Times op-ed noted last year, some once-wary Republicans like Senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have warmed to electrics once related jobs arrived in their states—in both cases, Ford EV plants. New alliances are developing. Labor and climate groups have united, somewhat surprisingly. Old alliances between automakers and oil companies have weakened in favor of groups like Zero Emission Transportation Association (ZETA), which lobbies for automakers, battery manufacturers and charging infrastructure providers.
This is not to say that pols of both stripes will roll out the red carpet for EV subsidies. President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation holds $320 billion in clean energy funding, including EV tax credits; however, it appears to be stalled out, possibly for good. Without sweeping action, the U.S. is unlikely to catch up with the rapid scale of EV adoption that’s taken place both in Europe and China.