Rep. Andy Levin is all-in on electric vehicles and the policies necessary to position the U.S.—and his home state of Michigan, the hub of the auto sector—as a leader in the technology.
"I'm into every aspect of those," Levin, a Democrat, said of the various strategies employed to sell more EVs, such as offering tax incentives or rebates to consumers.
"Detroit needs to remain the center of the auto industry and for that to happen, we have to be the center of the EV and (autonomous vehicle) industry," he told Automotive News.
In the last Congress, Levin helped introduce the EV Freedom Act—a bill that would create a national network of public, high-speed charging infrastructure along eligible U.S. roads to encourage the adoption of EVs and create "good-paying union jobs" for workers installing and servicing them. The bill was referred to a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee, but no further action was taken.
The congressman's EV-focused efforts run parallel with President Biden's $2 trillion "Build Back Better" plan to build at least 500,000 EV charging stations nationwide, swap the government's fleet of roughly 645,000 vehicles with electric models and implement other measures around supporting the economic recovery, creating union jobs and addressing climate change.
Levin, 60, spoke with Staff Reporter Audrey LaForest about how Congress will influence auto policy as it relates to EVs and infrastructure as well as Biden's big plans for both. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: What's on your to-do list for 2021 as it relates to legislation or actions that might affect the auto industry?
A: The EV Freedom Act—that's definitely my priority. EVs are easy to love. They're fun to drive. They have lower maintenance costs, and we need to move in that direction.
The biggest barrier is range anxiety and, in particular, that America is Thelma & Louise. America is road trips. America is a place where people move about. You have to be able to jump in your car—whatever kind it is—and go visit Grandma in Omaha. The big thing we have to accomplish is create a national network of high-speed chargers on America's roadways, on the national highway system—not just the interstate system. We have to do it in such a way that no one has to worry about running out of juice, because they're placed frequently enough and in adequate numbers so that people can "refuel." That's what the EV Freedom Act does, and it does it quickly.
Q: Do you plan to reintroduce the bill this year?
A: There are a number of ways we might move it forward. It's certainly possible that it could be part of (a second budget resolution that would include longer-term pieces of Biden's economic recovery agenda). It's also possible for it to be part of the infrastructure package.
Q: Biden has big plans for creating clean-energy jobs, building EV charging infrastructure and other efforts to speed the adoption of EVs in the U.S. How might those play out?
A: He's going to be light-years ahead as the most aggressive president to take on the problem of climate change that we've seen. He will work with Congress. Now, our majorities are super thin over here in both the House and the Senate, so that's a problem to overcome. But I don't doubt for a minute his commitment to big, big change.
Q: Auto makers such as General Motors and Volvo are setting targets for electrifying their lineups. Does that put pressure on the federal government to address obstacles related to EVs?
A: It does. It puts good pressure (on the government). In a way, business and environmental advocates are coming together on this. If GM proceeded with its plans and we did not change any policy, GM would go out of business. (CEO) Mary Barra is making a bet that our government will be competent and science-based and will make the policies necessary—like broad implementation of EV charging infrastructure and tax policies that stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry—and start to encourage technological change to save our planet. I think she's making the right bet. She's really demonstrating leadership here. She's also putting pressure on her peers, but I think it's healthy pressure, and I welcome it.