Manchin questions electric vehicle dependence in bid to clean up transportation

Source: By James Osborne, Houston Chroncile • Posted: Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks to reporters as he walks towards the Senate as Congress moves closer to the funding deadline to avoid a government shutdown on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks to reporters as he walks towards the Senate as Congress moves closer to the funding deadline to avoid a government shutdown on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)Andrew Harnik/STF

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joe Manchin on Tuesday urged the adoption of not just electric vehicles but also hydrogen fuel cell technology, as the United States moves to clean up its transportation sector.

In a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Manchin chairs, the West Virginia Democrat questioned the  the logic of depending too heavily of electric vehicles when the United States is so reliant on China and other nations for critical minerals used to make the lithium-ion batteries that power those vehicles.

“While I recognize the value of electric vehicles to help reduce emissions I remain deeply concerned just a handful of countries, some of which have questionable mining practices, are the gatekeepers for the critical minerals we need to build the batteries,” he said. “We can’t bury our heads in the sand on that.”

President Joe Biden has made adoption of electric vehicles a cornerstone of his climate policy, ordering federal agencies to shift to replace the government’s fleet of about 650,000 vehicles with electric models and committed to building a half-million electric charging stations.

To address supply-chain concerns, the Energy Department is developing new suppliers for critical minerals, looking for substitute materials and improving battery recycling, Principal Deputy Assistant Energy Secretary Kelly Speakes-Backman testified.

“We are making progress, but there’s a lot more work to be done,” she said.

While some car manufacturers such as GM and Volvo have committed to the technology, some such as Toyota have yet to do so, as they continue to improve hybrid vehicles and develop new hydrogen vehicles that function more like traditional gasoline-powered vehicles.

Robert Wimmer, director of Toyota North America’s Energy and Environmental Research Group, urged the Senate not to “tie our horse to a single technology.”

“Our collective destination is a carbon-free transportation system,” he said. “I believe we’ll get there, but it won’t be a single technology and it won’t happen overnight. We need to remain supportive of all electric vehicle technology.”

The shift from internal-combustion engines poses a major threat to Texas’s oil and gas industry, for which transportation is its primary market.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., ranking member on the committee, questioned the logic of the Biden administration’s approach, which he described as trying to “regulate the internal combustion engine out of existence.”

“There are a lot of exciting new technologies to make this sector cleaner and more efficient, and I believe innovation, not regulation, is the best way to improve our country’s mobility,” he said. “We need to expand, not limit, options.”

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