Democrats’ climate law set off a wave of energy projects in GOP districts. A backlash followed.

Source: By JOSH SIEGEL, KELSEY TAMBORRINO and JESSIE BLAESER, Politico • Posted: Monday, August 14, 2023

The IRA is drawing billions of dollars in new private investments to take advantage of the federal stimulus that took effect a year ago this week.

A man carries a solar panel as he and another man install a solar array on the roof of a home.
More than 200 clean energy projects across 38 states have been announced since IRA passage. | Michael Conroy/AP Photo

President Joe Biden’s year-old climate law triggered a deluge of clean energy spending in almost every state — and it’s splitting conservatives across rural America.

Some communities are welcoming their slice of the $370 billion pot of federal tax incentives meant to accelerate the development of renewable energy and the deployment of electric vehicles as a way to bring back jobs. Others see the Inflation Reduction Act as a vehicle for boosting Chinese businesses and the reach of their government.

For the companies that are hoping to reap federal tax incentives as well as state and local sweeteners, Republican parts of the country often look more attractive. Of the 200 project locations that have been announced through July, more than 60 percent are in GOP-held districts, according to a POLITICO analysis.

“Companies are building projects where they will be the most effective and generate the most resources,” said Jason Grumet, CEO of the American Clean Power Association, a clean energy industry trade group. “It is no surprise in the Southeast, Upper Midwest, where you have significant amounts of manufacturing capacity, much of which has been idled and left the country.”

As the IRA hits its first anniversary, POLITICO traveled across the nation to examine how the law is playing out in Oklahoma (where the Republican governor is claiming credit for the state’s booming clean energy sector), Michigan (where multibillion-dollar battery projects will generate jobs but are provoking uproars over Chinese ties) and upstate New York (where Republican congressmembers in Biden districts are trying to navigate the politics of the IRA).

MICHIGAN: Green Charter Township and Marshall

Jim Chapman, the Republican supervisor for Green Charter Township, a small rural community an hour’s drive north of Grand Rapids, said he’s received several death threats over a planned $2.36 billion battery component manufacturing facility in the area.

“I accepted the fact that I was going to have to be the lightning rod,” Chapman said in an interview from his office. He is facing a recall effort launched by residents worried about the plant’s sponsor, Gotion, and its links to China.

“Where you have people that are concerned about the Chinese Communist [Party] — they don’t know how to [fight] it in Lansing. They don’t know how to deal with it in Washington. They can deal with it locally,” he said.

Gotion Inc., which recently finalized the purchase of 270 acres in Green Charter Township, is a U.S. subsidiary of Gotion High-tech Co., an international company founded in China.

Residents and some elected officials point to Gotion High-tech documents that include language to “carry out Party activities” in accordance with the Chinese Communist Party.

Chuck Thelen, the vice president of North American manufacturing at Gotion, has insisted there is no such language in the U.S.-based company’s articles of incorporation. Thelen said the Chinese Communist Party has no presence in the North American company.

“The rumors that you’ve heard about us bringing communism to North America are just flat-out fear-mongering and really have nothing based in reality,” he said.

The plant’s backers say the opposition represents just a small minority of residents and argue it will bring much-needed economic growth.

“We desperately need good-paying jobs,” said Carlleen Rose, 69, a local business owner.

But those who oppose the project have a lengthy list of concerns, including a lack of transparency in the process up to this point and potential for air and water pollution stemming from battery materials.

Thelen said the company is currently going through the permitting process for the facility, including the next phase of an environmental study.

“All you gotta do is drive around the community and you’ll see how many people are against it,” said Lori Brock, 58, the owner of a local real estate agency and a horse farm across from the planned site.

“They’re pushing it down our throats,” Brock added. “Why are we giving our tax money to China when we’re almost at war with China? Why aren’t we giving our tax money to an American company?”

That antipathy is shared by local elected officials, including Republican Rep. John Moolenaar, who represents the district.

The site’s proximity to a military training center has also raised national security concerns, although the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States reportedly determined earlier this year the factory was outside of its jurisdiction.

The project — along with a separate Ford Motor Co. battery facility in Marshall, Mich., that will license technology from a Chinese company — mark a recurring theme of distrust that undergirds some of the manufacturing announcements that are flowing to red districts.

More than 40 percent of the new manufacturing announcements made since the IRA was enacted were led by companies based outside the U.S. or by companies outside the U.S. in partnership with a U.S. company, according to data shared with POLITICO by national business group E2. At least six of those announcements were made by, or in partnership with, a Chinese-based company.

Ford’s planned $3.5 billion BlueOval Battery Park Michigan project two hours south of the Gotion plant is expected to create 2,500 new U.S. jobs.

But its reliance on technology from China-based Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd., a large global battery producer, has drawn pushback both locally and in Washington, where Republicans are putting the project under a microscope. Residents have also lodged concerns about the plant’s effects on the environment, particularly to the Kalamazoo River, and the loss of farmland.

Ford spokesperson Melissa Miller said there’s “a lot of misinformation” about the Marshall project. Ford, she said in a statement, will own and control the plant with “zero foreign investment” and its Chinese partner’s involvement will be as a licensor of battery cell technology and a service provider on a contractual basis.

“CATL does not and will not have any equity in the plant and will receive zero tax dollars,” Miller said.

On the environmental concerns, she said the company is still designing the plant, but has begun identifying and mitigating potential failures.

Residents in both communities have packed into town meetings over the months and launched Facebook pages devoted to their opposition. The two projects have prompted recall efforts for local officials and in the case of the Marshall project, a citizen-led lawsuit.

“America’s gotta wake up. We’re being taken over,” Debbie Dygert, 71, said in an interview after a recent Green Charter Township board meeting, which devolved into shouting over concerns of China’s influence and claims by some of xenophobia.

Both the Ford and Gotion facilities were applauded by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, and are taking advantage of hundreds of millions of dollars in state-level incentives, on top of the likely incentives under the IRA.

Quentin Messer, Jr., the CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, a quasi-state agency, called it “critically important” for Michigan to maintain a foothold in battery manufacturing.

“You always have to make the affirmative case as to why growth and progress are going to be beneficial, and not something to be feared,” Messer said. “And I think that’s something that we understand we have to do and make more explicit to folks.”

OKLAHOMA: Inola and Oklahoma City

Bill McAnally, a self-declared “Trump fan,” was ecstatic when an Italian company, Enel, announced plans in May to spend more than $1 billion — the largest private investment in the state’s history — to build a solar cell and panel manufacturing facility a half-hour drive east of Tulsa.