Scoop: Democrats meet with Ford executive to juice talks on electric vehicles

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Scoop: Democrats meet with Ford executive to juice talks on electric vehicles

Bill Ford Jr., the executive chairman of Ford Motor, met with Senate Democrats on Thursday to highlight the importance of supporting American manufacturing of electric vehicles, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The meeting with Ford, a titan of the auto industry, comes as Democrats face a shrinking window to pass President Biden’s stalled budget reconciliation bill, which would extend and expand tax credits for Americans who purchase electric vehicles instead of gas guzzlers.

Ford, the great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford, addressed the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee at its lunch on Thursday, according to the two individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

A spokesman for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), who chairs the committee, told The Climate 202 that Ford spoke broadly at the lunch “about EVs and manufacturing.” The spokesman declined to comment further.

When approached by The Climate 202 outside the meeting, Ford declined to comment. In an email, Ford spokeswoman Melissa Miller confirmed that the chairman discussed electric vehicles with Democrats yesterday, in addition to meeting with Republican Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty about an EV manufacturing facility in their home state of Tennessee.

“Bill was happy to engage with senators on both sides of the aisle to discuss Ford’s commitment to leading the electric vehicle revolution,” Miller said. “He appreciated Senator Stabenow’s invitation to speak to the Democratic caucus’s lunch meeting and the opportunity to meet with Senators Blackburn and Hagerty to discuss the latest developments on Blue Oval City, Tennessee.” 

In recent weeks, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) have met several times to hammer out a possible agreement on the reconciliation bill. Both men attended the Democratic lunch.

When asked about his discussions with Schumer about the EV incentive after the meeting, Manchin told The Climate 202: “Everything’s been respectful. … There’s not a whole lot going on.”

Under the version of the reconciliation bill that passed the House last year, consumers who purchase most EVs would receive a $7,500 tax credit, and consumers who buy an EV made by union workers in the United States would receive an additional $4,500 credit.

The credit expires after an automaker has sold 200,000 eligible vehicles. Ford, Nissan and Toyota  will probably surpass this threshold soon unless Congress intervenes.

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), whose panel has jurisdiction over tax policy, expressed confidence Thursday that Manchin would ultimately support extending the EV incentive.

“Of the three areas that Senator Manchin is most interested in, one of them is energy and climate,” Wyden told The Climate 202, adding that the other two are prescription drugs and tax avoidance. “And I’ve talked to him about each of them many, many times.”

However, Manchin has publicly voiced concern about the bonus credit for union-made EVs, saying it would discriminate against automakers whose employees are not unionized. He has also indicated that he wants to lower the income thresholds for consumers to access the EV credit, so that the subsidy doesn’t primarily benefit wealthy households.

An individual familiar with the matter said the bonus credit for union-made EVs will probably be dropped from any possible deal, while the income cap issue will need to be addressed.

“That’s kind of the baseline assumption,” the person said.

Biden has set an ambitious goal for half of all new vehicles sold in the United States to be electric by 2030. But meeting that goal will depend on convincing more Americans that EVs are affordable, in addition to building out a national network of charging stations.

While EVs often have a higher sticker price than gasoline-powered cars, they are less expensive to operate because of lower maintenance and fuel costs, particularly as gas prices soar to $5 per gallon in much of the country.

Most models of EVs are cheaper to own on a monthly basis on the day they are driven off the lot, according to a recent analysis by Energy Innovation, a San Francisco-based climate and energy think tank.

But “that finding is really contingent on the federal tax credit,” Robbie Orvis, senior director of energy policy design at Energy Innovation, told The Climate 202.

“If we don’t have that $7,500 tax credit,” he said, “that narrative gets flipped on its head.”

Sen. Rosen says Congress needs to provide more money for Biden to save solar industry

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), one of the most vocal advocates for solar energy on Capitol Hill, told The Climate 202 on Thursday that she is pushing for Congress to appropriate more money for President Biden to use the Defense Production Act to keep the U.S. solar industry going.

“I fully support providing more funding for the Defense Production Act,” Rosen said. “We have to be sure that whether it is through the Banking Committee, the Appropriations Committee or even through reconciliation, that we find that funding.”

Biden on Monday invoked the Defense Production Act to boost domestic clean energy companies, including U.S. solar panel and cell manufacturers, who have been rattled by a Commerce Department investigation into solar panels from four Southeast Asian nations.

The president also waived crushing tariffs on certain panels manufactured abroad for two years. While many solar advocates praised the move, some domestic manufacturers questioned whether Biden has the necessary authority under the Tariff Act of 1930, raising the prospect of legal challenges.

“We believe the president has the authority to do that … and any litigation would be rejected,” Rosen said. “But I guess we’ll wait and see on that.”

Zinke prevails in Montana’s Republican primary

Ryan Zinke, who led the Interior Department under President Donald Trump before resigning under a cloud of ethics investigations, is projected to win the Republican nomination for Montana’s new House seat, our colleague Hannah Knowles reports.

Zinke prevailed despite allegations that his wife’s primary residence is in California. He is heavily favored to win in November in a state that Trump won by 16 points in the 2020 presidential election.

As interior secretary from 2017 to 2018, Zinke took numerous steps to spur America’s fossil fuel production as part of Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda.

Explosion at Texas LNG plant increases strain on global energy market

An explosion at the Freeport LNG facility in Texas on Wednesday could kick the major natural gas plant off the grid for at least three weeks, company officials said Thursday, adding pressure to an already volatile global energy market, The Post’s Jacob Bogage reports. 

A prolonged closure of the plant, which accounts for 20 percent of U.S. liquefied natural gas processing and is a huge exporter to Britain and the European Union, could have a significant impact on energy prices as markets prepare for a summer demand surge and as the E.U. begins to wean itself off Russian crude oil. 

“The world was already teetering on the edge, so to speak, for global LNG supply-demand, and the incident at Freeport, I wouldn’t say it pushes the world over the edge, but I think a bit closer,” said Alex Munton, director of global gas and liquefied natural gas at Rapidan Energy Group.

Average gasoline price exceeds $5 per gallon

The average cost of gasoline in the United States eclipsed $5 per gallon for the first time ever on Thursday, according to the gas price site GasBuddy, Rachel Frazin reports for the Hill. 

The unprecedented surge comes after months of pain for drivers at the pump because of inflation, the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, as the nation gears up for summer, the demand for gas is expected to increase and further strain prices. 

In a bid to demonstrate to voters that they are working to lower costs, Democrats have sought to blame oil companies for alleged price gouging while they reap record high profits. And a majority of drivers agree, Abha Bhattarai and Jacob Bogage report for The Post. 

According to a recent Post-Schar School poll, Americans cite multiple factors for rising gas prices cutting into their budgets, with 72 percent blaming corporations, 69 percent blaming the war, and 58 percent blaming President Biden and the pandemic. 

World leaders made big climate promises. They’re struggling to follow through.

Last fall, world leaders made promises to move faster to tackle climate change at the COP26 climate summit in Scotland. But now, even as extreme weather events fueled by global warming are plaguing regions across the globe, following through on those pledges has proven difficult, The Post’s Brady Dennis reports. 

Despite scientists repeatedly cautioning that inaction could lead to an irreversible climate catastrophe, many policymakers and environmentalists are concerned that immediate crises, such as the war in Ukraine and the pandemic, are hindering the ability of leaders to take action on global warming. With only a few months left before the next United Nations climate conference, advocates are uncertain when or whether those promises will result in concrete implementation. 

At a climate change conference in Bonn this week, global climate delegates tried to create a road map to help the world reach its climate goals, but no far-reaching new agreements are expected from the gathering. 

“We must move these negotiations along more quickly. The world expects it,” Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, said in Bonn. “It is not acceptable to say that we are in challenging times — they know that climate change is not an agenda we can afford to push back on our global schedule.”