Rep. Dingell Keeps Electric Vehicles on the Agenda Amid COVID-19 Recovery

Image: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

by Julia Pyper, Contributing Editor at Greentech Media, Host and Producer of Political Climate 

 

As the American automotive industry slowly gets back to business amid the coronavirus pandemic, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI) says the industry must maintain its focus on electric vehicle innovation.

“The fact of the matter is, the internal combustion engine is becoming obsolete,” she told the Political Climate podcast. “We are the birthplace of the American automobile. We are the nation that developed and gave people the ability to be mobile, to travel around. And I will not cede that to China or India or any country in Europe. We are going to stay at the forefront of innovation and technology, and that’s why it’s so critical to support it.”

Why This Matters: The U.S. EV market is in for a bumpy ride this year, on the heels of a downturn in 2019. In conjunction with supply chain disruptions and reduced consumer demand linked to COVID-19, gas prices have reached new lows, undermining the cost-benefit of going electric. The Trump administration also rolled back fuel economy standards during the pandemic, making the rules easier for auto manufacturers to meet without making EVs. 

A new round of economic stimulus presents an opportunity to put Americans back to work while accelerating the transition to low carbon transportation.

 

Smart Policy: In January, Rep. Dingell introduced legislation that could serve as a template. “The USA Electrify Forward Act” would appropriate $2 billion each year for the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program. The bill also directs the Secretary of Transportation to “accelerate domestic manufacturing efforts” around EV batteries and power electronics, and to update building codes to facilitate the deployment of EV charging. 

Making a comeback: Rep. Dingell told Political Climate that bringing financial stability back to the American auto sector — which shut down vehicle production and pivoted to making masks and ventilators earlier this year — is currently her top priority. But she underscored that automakers need to keep investing in EVs and that Congress needs to support the industry with new policies coming out of the present crisis.

“I’m focused on the very short term for liquidity for these companies, and then we need to get back to ensuring that we are going to a carbonless society and investing in the technology that’s going to get us there,” said the Michigan Democrat.

 

The Bad: Last year, Congress failed to approve legislation that would have substantially increased the number of vehicles that qualify for the $7,500 federal tax credit. The U.S. is also falling behind other nations in the global push for a “green recovery.”

Michigan Green Jobs and the Presidential Election: Michigan played a central role in electing Donald Trump to the White House in 2016. Looking ahead to the 2020 election, Rep. Dingell said that it’s way too early to tell how her state will vote. So in the meantime, she’s focused on uniting labor and environmental groups around a green jobs agenda. Such a coalition could have significant sway come November.

 

“We’ve got to work together so that we are protecting jobs [and so] that we are going to create green jobs,” said the congresswoman. “I want people to talk to each other and I want to build a coalition. I don’t want people fighting with each other and not realizing they have far more in common.”

Listen to the full interview with Rep. Dingell, plus a conversation with the Vice President of Public Policy at the American EV upstart Rivian, on Political Climate.

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