The Biden administration announced Friday that it would waive its “Buy America” requirements as it pushes for the rapid development of a nationwide network of electric vehicle chargers, just days after it boasted of building a “reliable, made in America” infrastructure.
The decision will allow the network to be built with chargers not made in the United States, even though President Biden boasted as recently as in his State of the Union address that he was pushing for new standards that would require “all building materials” for infrastructure projects. manufactured in the USA
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On Wednesday, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced plans to install a network of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers by 2030 to support its goal of putting more electric cars on the road. The FHWA’s announcement promised to “electrify the great American road trip” by “delivering a convenient, reliable and Made-in America charging network for electric vehicles (EVs).
The administration has billions available for the public works project, thanks to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that President Biden signed in 2021.
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But on Friday, the FHWA issued a regulation that waives the current “Buy America” rules and will allow the use of EV chargers that are not made in America. The FHWA said that while the Infrastructure Act includes a “Buy America” requirement, it also includes a waiver from those rules.
The FHWA said a “public interest” waiver is needed in this case, because failing to grant one would slow down the process of installing EV chargers across the country — indicating that the government values speed over the use of domestic materials.
In response to arguments from U.S. steel companies, industry associations, and steelworkers’ unions that opposed the waiver, the FHWA said that failing to grant a waiver would “threaten the ability of these infrastructure projects to be completed on time.”
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The agency also rejected arguments that it ran afoul of congressional intent by allowing the use of non-U.S. electric vehicle chargers and insisted that the waiver would “encourage domestic industry to increase production of electric vehicle chargers.”
“This waiver is being issued on the basis of its consistency with the public interest,” the FHWA said, adding that adhering to the national content requirements of the law would be “inconsistent with the public interest.”
Under the waiver, electric car chargers not made in the United States can be used to support the administration’s goal of installing 500,000 chargers by 2030 if they are assembled in the United States. It will be allowed for more than a year – from when the regulation comes into force next month until 30 June 2024.
After that, EV chargers will still be allowed if they are assembled in the US and if 55% or more of the components used in EV chargers are manufactured in the US
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The FHWA said the second phase of the “Buy America” waiver will remain in place for five years, but also said it has the right to end it sooner if it wants.
The waiver goes against the stated intent of President Biden and various laws typically supported by Democrats. In 2021, Biden issued an executive order to “Ensure that the future is made across America by all of America’s workers.”
Existing law already included a “Buy America” requirement for the FHWA, and similar language was included in the infrastructure bill pushed by Democrats in Congress and signed by Biden in 2021.
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The companies and groups opposed to the exemption included Nucor Corp., the Steel Manufacturers Association, the United Steelworkers, the American Iron and Steel Institute, the Alliance for American Manufacturing and the AFL-CIO.