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Federal Official: EVs a Charged Topic With High-Level Support

Demand for electric vehicles is growing internationally and the technology is finding gubernatorial backing at home from both sides of the aisle, Shailen Bhatt, a senior member of the U.S. Department of Transportation, said Friday.

A green-colored electric vehicle faces the camera, charging in front of a wood fence.
The electric vehicle movement is producing jobs and spurring innovation across the country, bolstered by gubernatorial support, and demand at home and abroad, a federal executive told industry leaders Friday.

Shailen Bhatt, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration within the U.S. Department of Transportation, warned attendees at the 2024 EV Charging Summit and Expo in Las Vegas that this is an election year, “so, a lot of things are going to get politicized.” Yet Bhatt, the former secretary of transportation in Delaware and Colorado, said the approval of state officials tells another story.

“But you know who doesn't politicize electric vehicles, the governors in states where they’re building them,” he added, listing blue and red states where EV or battery manufacturing is taking hold. In his keynote address, “EVs: Facts, Not Politics,” Bhatt highlighted governors on both sides of the aisle who have expressed support for electric vehicles, including Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama.

“But you know who else is really supportive of EVs? Kay Ivey of Alabama, which, last time I checked, is a pretty red state, and is probably not going to be a swing state,” Bhatt said in virtual remarks. “She’s a huge fan of EVs, because they’re manufactured there.”

“Alabama’s auto manufacturing sector is evolving rapidly to capitalize on the EV revolution that is sweeping the industry,” Ivey said in an October 2022 statement, announcing plans by Hyundai Mobis to invest $205 million to develop an EV battery plant in Montgomery, which will employ at least 400 people. “We’re excited about the company’s new investment and what it represents for the next chapter of auto-making in Alabama.”

In December, Kentucky broke ground on the BlueOval SK Battery Park in Hardin County, a project with Ford and SK On. The project, the largest in the state’s history, will invest nearly $6 billion and create 5,000 new jobs. Earlier this year, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear called attention to Envision AESC’s $2 billion, 2,000-job battery facility project.

“Because of these great projects, Kentucky has cemented its status as the electric vehicle battery production capital of the United States of America,” Beshear said in his Jan. 4 State of the State address.

The federal government has been investing broadly into the transition from gas-powered autos to EVs, by funding the build-out of charging stations; offering purchase incentives; and even setting new fuel economy standards to nudge the industry away from fossil fuels. All of these efforts, said Bhatt, are part of a consolidated effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that have led to human-caused climate change.

“And whether people believe in the politics of it or not, the weather is behaving in ways that our infrastructure was not designed for,” he remarked. “So for us, if we can make investments in transportation that can help reduce our carbon footprint, that just makes sense.” It also makes sense that the United States continues to be a leader in automotive innovation, he added, noting global EV sales have more than doubled in the last two years.

“The president wants there to be a strong, domestic, domestically sourced manufacturing base for all these technologies, whether it’s semiconductors, EV chargers,” Bhatt said.

“This is about what is going to be bought and sold globally in the coming decades. We want to make sure we are winning the EV manufacturing race,” he said. “We want to make sure that we’re leading the 21st century. And we want to make sure that we are building this technology here with American workers, and creating jobs.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.