By Keith Laing
Sparks flew Wednesday at a House hearing investigating battery fires associated with the Chevrolet Volt electric car.
Republicans hammered David Strickland, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over his agency's handling of the battery fires during a meeting of a subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
But Strickland defended the Volt, insisting the electric car produced by General Motors, the beneficiary of a 2009 government bailout, was perfectly safe.
Republicans on the committee remained skeptical, accusing Strickland of concealing the investigation of the Volt batteries because the Obama administration was intent on pushing electric vehicles.
“Whose best interest were you acting in?” Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) said. “It certainly wasn’t the American public.
“Is the commitment to the American public or is the commitment to clean energy that we are going to get there any way we can?” Kelly continued. “When the market is ready … it won’t have to be subsidized.”
Republicans zeroed in on allegations the highway safety agency kept an investigation of a June explosion of a Volt quiet until news reports about the incident surfaced in November.
“You knew about that explosion ... when you came
and testified before Congress, and when the president talked about [fuel efficiency] standards,”
the panel’s chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), said to Strickland during the
“But for the [news reports], would you have ever told us?" Jordan asked Strickland.
Strickland responded that the agency’s investigation “took every second of that time,” and he defended the safety of the electric vehicles.
Democrats on the committee defended both Strickland and the Chevy Volt. They argued Republicans were using the battery fire in the Chevy Volt to attempt to put the brakes on the Obama administration's clean-car proposals.
“This hearing is not about safety,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said. “This hearing is about an attack."
“I wouldn’t want this committee’s activities on this issue to discourage companies like GM from continuing to innovate,” Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) added. “We don’t want to be buying lithium-ion batteries from China in five years.”
General Motors CEO Daniel Akerson likewise argued that the debate
about the Volt was too political, telling the committee, "[W]e did not
develop the Chevy Volt to be a political punching bag.
“We engineered the Volt to be a technological wonder,” he said during his opening remarks to the committee. “Motor Trend called it a moon-shot, and it is.”
But House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he was more interested in the Obama administration’s involvement in the Volt’s development.
“Your administration is not up to speed to maintain safety in an electric age," he said to NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “You don't know what you're doing [and] an anomaly happened."