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The Electric Flash Analysis: Democrats Have Suddenly Gone Vague on EVs and Batteries

Only last week, President Joe Biden yet again put a buildout of the U.S. lithium-ion–battery supply chain and electric vehicle industry at the center of federal policy, lining up with auto industry and labor leaders to push for a surge of EV sales by the end of the decade. But such explicit messaging—and spending—is not clearly spelled out in legislation approved this week by the U.S. Senate.

So muddled is the party’s follow-through on Biden’s battery and EV agenda that 29 House Democrats on Wednesday wrote a letter to House and Senate leaders seeking assurance that $174 billion in promised spending would be included in the bills making their way through the system.

It’s not clear why the Democrats are suddenly vague regarding a core plank of Biden’s and the party’s agenda. No one would suggest that the Democrats are about to abandon batteries and EVs, but the fact that a not-insignificant number of House members is worried enough to write and stay on the case suggests they are anxious about how much ultimately will be budgeted. 

In the letter, obtained by The Electric, the House Democrats complain that a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed Tuesday by the Senate includes just $10 billion to $13 billion for EV and battery spending. The amount falls “far short of the [sum] needed to support EV production and adoption on a sufficient scale,” they say in the letter, published first by Reuters. The House group was led by California Rep. Doris Matsui.

The infrastructure bill, which has gone for consideration by the House, includes $7.5 billion for the buildout of charging infrastructure across the country, half the money Biden had sought. Another $7.5 billion has been added to help pay to replace combustion-based school buses—presumably with battery-powered vehicles, though that goes unstated. Biden had proposed $20 billion to electrify 20% of the nation’s school buses.

The $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” blueprint is written in general spending categories. Senate committees are asked to allocate unstated amounts for “auto supply chain technologies,” “investment in clean vehicles” and “electrifying the federal fleet,” including U.S. Postal Service vehicles. Nothing is stated in a summary of the blueprint about rebates that Biden last week proposed, which would reimburse EV buyers immediately when they purchase a vehicle, nor about the extension of rebates to Tesla and General Motors, both of which have sold too many vehicles to continue qualifying for the existing $7,500 federal tax rebate.

Jordyn Ives contributed reporting to this story

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About Steve LeVine

Steve LeVine is editor of The Electric. Previously, he worked at Axios, Quartz and Medium, and before that The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He is the author of The Powerhouse: America, China and the Great Battery War, and is on Twitter @stevelevine

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Steve LeVine is editor of The Electric. Previously, he worked at Axios, Quartz and Medium, and before that The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He is the author of The Powerhouse: America, China and the Great Battery War, and is on Twitter @stevelevine
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