Biden Could Fulfill Two Policy Goals in Georgia, But Time’s Running Out

Posted: Mar 25, 2021 9:00 PM
Biden Could Fulfill Two Policy Goals in Georgia, But Time’s Running Out

Source: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

If the Biden administration is serious about fulfilling two of its campaign promises – a call for unity and a commitment to increasing green energy jobs – it has about two weeks to make a move that would go a long way toward meeting both of those goals.

There’s a strange case in Georgia involving a dispute between two Korean electric car battery manufacturers that Georgia legislators from both sides of the political spectrum are urging the Biden administration to consider. If it does, which would amount to disapproving a decision handed down by the International Trade Commission (ITC) that stops one of the manufacturers from importing the materials they need to develop their product, the administration could save thousands of green energy jobs in the state.

But the clock is ticking.

At issue is a dispute between South Korea-based SK Innovation that has invested heavily in a manufacturing plant in Georgia to produce electric vehicle batteries and needs only to import the materials to begin work; and LG Chem, a giant in the South Korean battery market and SKI’s chief competitor who has accused SKI of improperly using trade secrets.

There are a couple of interesting wrinkles in the case. First, the allegations against SKI are apparently not illegal in South Korea, so LG Chem turned to the ITC to litigate a solution under American trade law.

Second, LG Chem has some troubling ties to the Chinese Communist government via their telecom arm LG UPlus – which, according to this report from the Center for a New American Security, has made a “long-term bet” on Huawei to provide their network infrastructure despite security concerns and its ties to the CCP. Furthermore, despite making some noise they would provide the batteries in lieu of SKI’s production, LG Chem doesn’t appear to be making serious moves in that direction.

Meanwhile, much of the Georgia factory, situated in a relatively rural area between metropolitan Atlanta and University of Georgia home base Athens, has already been completed and sits waiting. Georgia’s Republican governor Brian Kemp is joined by new Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock in calling for the Biden administration to disapprove the ITC decision and save Georgia green jobs.

Warnock has been particularly compelling.

“An adverse ruling by the International Trade Commission threatens seriously the future of that project, whether it’ll happen at all,” Warnock said at a hearing a month after the February 2021 ITC decision. “This would be one of the largest economic investments in Georgia’s history and a severe punch in the gut, if you will, for folks who are counting on those jobs, not to mention President Biden’s own goals.”

For his part, Kemp wrote the administration a letter on March 12 respectfully asking the administration to “exercise the authority granted to [them] under the law” and disapprove the ITC ruling.

The Commerce plant fits squarely into your publicly announced goal of electrification of the U.S. auto fleet with good, high paying jobs for local workers. Furthermore, your recently announced Executive Order on supply chains recognized the critical role of EV batteries to our economy and national security. Given that China is currently the leading producer of EV batteries, closing the Commerce, Georgia plant will result in the United States falling further behind China in the global EV battery race… Simply put: the livelihoods of thousands of Georgians are now in your hands. This critical opportunity requires us to work together for the good of my state and our country. 

Huffington Post’s Alex Kaufman has been covering the story and his latest piece affirms that the Biden administration – despite the bipartisan request and the potential for real movement toward the development of green jobs in a reliably red state – has thus far remained quiet on the issue.

So far, there has been no sign from the White House that it will block the decision, and SK Innovation has hired consultants to draft a plan to shut down its $2.6 billion plant in Georgia. The move has sent Peach State officials scrambling to save one of the largest economic development projects in the state’s history.

“There’s nothing partisan about the jobs of the future,” said Pat Wilson, the GOP commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Economic Development.

As the silence from the administration continues, there are real questions about why team Biden wouldn’t step in to reverse a decision that would meet two of his stated goals – bipartisanship and increased green energy jobs -- especially since SKI has invested upwards of $15 billion in the U.S. since 2018 compared to LG Chem’s $1.5 billion.

But the ticking of the clock continues to be the only sound.

Sarah Lee is a freelance writer and policy wonk living and working in Washington, DC.