Biden Is Running Out of Time to Address ITC Ruling That Would Hurt Georgia

As we enter the last half of March, time is running out for President Joe Biden to overturn an International Trade Commission decision that threatens at least 2,600 jobs in Commerce, Georgia. I previously covered the issue here, but there have been some developments worth noting since then.

First, it’s clear that administration officials— possibly thanks to solid advocacy from Gov. Brian Kemp— are aware that if the ITC decision stands, it will likely mean real problems for the Biden administration meeting its vehicle electrification goals and this is something that lends itself towards a possible overturning of the decision. 

Given this, LG Chem—the Korean battery-maker that wants the decision to stand, which would in practice mean threatening these 2,600 jobs and a bunch of the US electric vehicle battery supply—has been making a lot of noise about how it will build a new battery plant in Tennessee to make up for the loss of batteries out of Georgia.

This is nice and all, but it may not work for them politically. Sources say it will take at least five years for this plant to come online, which means it can’t immediately start servicing automakers’ needs. It also would leave a one-year gap between when the Commerce factory would effectively have to stop making batteries for Ford F150s and when the proposed Tennessee plant would come online. That isn’t very workable, and this is setting aside that Hyundai keeps saying that faulty LG batteries that catch fire are why it’s had to implement a huge vehicle recall. 

It’s just not clear what the market is for these batteries, not now, not five years from now, and that’s setting aside that, again, the plant would be in Tennessee, not Georgia, and Georgia is a swing state about which Biden, Republicans, Kemp, Stacey Abrams, Sen. Raphael Warnock and everyone else under the sun cares about a lot right now. Tennessee just isn’t.

On the subject of Warnock, he’s been weighing in in favor of the plant a lot lately, which tells you something about which way the political winds are blowing. During this recent hearing, with Polly Trottenberg (nominee to become the Deputy Secretary of Transportation), Warnock said this:

WARNOCK: Well, thank you so much, and related to that, we have a massive $2.6 billion electric vehicle battery plant that’s under construction right now in Commerce, Georgia. This plant would produce car batteries to help accomplish President Biden’s goals of increasing electric vehicles to fight carbon emissions and climate change. The cost of the plan again is $2.6 billion. It will produce or providing 2,600 clean energy jobs in the short term.
Ultimately I’m up to 10,000 new clean energy jobs in Georgia. But an adverse ruling by the international trade commission threatens seriously the future of that project, whether it will happen at all.

This would be one of the largest economic investment projects on this core (ph) in Georgia’s history. And you know a severe punch in the gut, if you will, for the folks who were counting on those jobs, not to mention President Biden’s own goals. Can you — by law, President Biden has 60 days to review the ruling and could alter it or block it.
If confirmed, will you ensure that the Department of Transportation will provide to President Biden an analysis of this ruling’s effect on his green transportation goals as he makes a decision?

TROTTENBERG: I certainly commit to that Senator and I know the Department is — is already aware of the issue at this plant and I think starting to look into the issues.

WARNOCK: Thank you so much. This will be absolutely critical for the people of Georgia that we would lose 2,600 clean energy jobs in the short term and 10,000 in the long term. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of that.
But also the facilitation of President Biden’s own clean transportation goals. So thank you so much for that commitment and I look forward to working with you to come to a resolution.

TROTTENBERG: Thank you, Senator.

A plant that will come online in Tennessee in five years just is not going to address these concerns, and Biden has to know that his Senate majority disappears instantly if Warnock loses next year. Set aside any substantive problems with letting the ITC decision stand, the politics of doing so just look really dicey at this point.

Again, Biden has until April 9 to make a decision, but basically the entirety of the Georgia congressional delegation is united in supporting the decision being overturned, and Gov. Kemp appears to be working hard to achieve the same outcome. You’ve got to think that will have an effect.

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