Energy & Environment

Lawmakers warn US could lose EV, AV race

Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) is seen during a press conference on June 23, 2021 to introduce the Conservative Climate Caucus
Greg Nash

As Congress prepares to consider a multibillion-dollar semiconductor investment package meant to develop American independence from China, Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) maintain that the domestic production of electric and autonomous vehicles should be treated as another essential element of global competition.

“Every day we don’t get something done and delay, we’re falling behind someplace else and the rest of the world,” Latta said Tuesday during The Hill’s “Driving Tomorrow EVs and AVs” event.

The latest version of Latta’s Self Drive Act would establish federal safety and cybersecurity standards for automated vehicles. His original bill failed to gain traction after passing the House in 2017.

The Ohio Republican has since touted his bill as an investment in the domestic supply of emerging technologies for the automotive industry, piggybacking off the momentum of the Biden-backed semiconductor package, which Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y) introduced with a similar objective.

Among other investments in research and development, Schumer’s bill would funnel $52 billion into the domestic development of computer chips, needed to produce cars and cellphones, amid a global chip shortage.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters the House could vote this week to begin formal negotiations on the semiconductor bill.

Reliance on international computer chip manufacturers led several American automakers to shut down their production lines as the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated supply chain backlogs. 

Latta said he anticipates that American dependence on China and other nations to mine lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite and manganese – minerals needed to produce the batteries used in electric vehicles – could lead to similar shutdowns.

China refines two-thirds of the world’s lithium and is the largest investor in lithium mines across the globe, according to the 2022 U.S. Geological Survey.

“This is a homeland security issue,” said Peters, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “This is a national security issue. We have to have supply chains that are not just efficient but are resilient.”

Latta has promoted his bill’s potential to improve highway safety and accessibility for seniors and people with disabilities. Some opponents have argued it could take jobs away from truckers, while others have noted that the U.S. lacks the mining infrastructure needed to mass-produce electric and autonomous vehicles.

“We had a hearing less than three weeks ago, four weeks ago and that was one of the questions that were brought up: ‘How long would it take to open up a mine in this country?’” Latta said. “It’ll be about 10 years by the time we find the site, go through the regulatory process. Ten years is a long time.”

Peters, who has been developing bipartisan autonomous vehicle legislation of his own, said he thinks it is “critically important” that the U.S. government makes immediate investments in its technological infrastructure.

“Our competitors around the world realize that the future of mobility in the world is autonomous vehicles,” Peters said. “The Chinese are investing massive amounts of money in this technology. We don’t want them to get too far ahead where we can’t catch up.”

Tags Chuck Schumer Gary Peters Steny Hoyer

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