May 4, 2023 - Energy & Environment

The tricky politics of the electric vehicle revolution

Illustration of an EV charger cable tied in a knot.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

When it comes to cars and energy, it's not (politically) easy being green.

Driving the news: New United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain said the union isn't endorsing President Biden's newly launched 2024 run — for now.

  • Fain's memo this week to members, meant to guide political messaging, says "The EV transition is at serious risk of becoming a race to the bottom."
  • It cites plant closures and idlings, and says automakers' joint ventures with battery manufacturers are undermining wages.

What they're saying: "Right now, we’re focused on making sure the EV transition does right by our members, our families, and our communities," the memo states, as first reported by The Detroit News.

Reality check: The powerful union is unlikely to ditch Biden, who it endorsed in 2020. The memo even says another Trump term would be a "disaster."

The big picture: The shift from gas-powered engines to batteries has long been worrisome for labor, because EVs require fewer workers to assemble.

  • But tensions with the UAW are just one piece of a complex puzzle.

President Biden's push for rapid uptake of EVs and other climate-friendly tech — via the new climate law and regulations — comes with political hurdles.

Zoom in: A couple of examples: Republicans are bashing Democratic policies to move away from fossil fuels, claiming they'll boost reliance on China, a huge player in batteries, key minerals and solar panels.

  • Multiple Democrats crossed the aisle to back legislation that would overturn Biden's suspension of tariffs on solar panels from Asia.

The intrigue: Republicans have internal differences, too. Former President Trump, who's seeking another term, has repeatedly bashed EVs.

  • Yet, red states like Georgia and South Carolina are increasingly playing host to EV and battery manufacturing — with strong support from GOP governors.

Of note: Neither the White House, nor Biden's campaign commented on the UAW memo.

  • But several Democratic policies aim to put emissions policy and industrial policy in sync.
  • The climate law has big incentives for domestic manufacturing of batteries and other climate-friendly tech.

The bottom line: The politics of clean energy can be messy.

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