The Biden administration has appointed Ford Motor Company’s top electric vehicle (EV) lobbyist, Christopher Smith, to the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board. This decision comes amidst criticism over Ford’s controversial partnership with a Chinese battery maker.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s advisory board is responsible for providing guidance on the best way to achieve a “global clean energy revolution.” As Ford’s chief government affairs officer, Smith has lobbied numerous federal agencies on green policies. Notably, Smith lobbied the Energy Department on EVs and greenhouse gas emission regulations just days before Granholm announced his appointment to the board.
Is he still holding Ford stock? https://t.co/uEC9jEu9r4
— Dusty (@dustopian) April 26, 2023
The appointment occurs as Ford faces scrutiny from Congress over its partnership with Chinese battery manufacturer Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., Limited (CATL). In February, Ford announced plans for a multibillion-dollar battery factory in Michigan, working alongside CATL to supply technology, equipment, and workers. Ford aims to utilize the factory to gain lucrative subsidies and tax breaks under President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, even though the act contains provisions to prevent China from receiving funds.
When congressional Republicans challenged Ford’s taxpayer-funded Chinese partnership, the automaker sent Smith to defend the arrangement. In a March 6 op-ed, Smith argued that Ford’s Chinese partners would have no “control of the plant” and would not directly receive taxpayer funds. However, Ford has admitted that CATL will provide personnel “to help with operations.” Any federal subsidies Ford receives through the plant will likely assist in paying to license CATL’s technology.
Smith’s explanation did not appease top China hawks on Capitol Hill. Following his op-ed, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced legislation to prevent Ford from using taxpayer funds to build batteries with Chinese technology. Rubio asserted, “Hard-working Americans should not be forced to subsidize Chinese companies that make batteries for electric vehicles that cost more than most people make in a year.”
The Energy Department did not comment on the matter. Still, Ford acknowledged to reporters that the Biden administration is “aware” of Smith’s lobbying work. The automaker also claimed not to have a “partnership” with CATL, as the deal with the Chinese battery maker does not grant it direct ownership in the Michigan factory. Instead, critics argue that this arrangement aims to exploit a loophole, allowing Ford to receive taxpayer funds while benefiting from Chinese manufacturing.
Biden’s executive order issued during his first month of office sought to curb the “revolving door” between government and corporate interests, requiring former lobbyists to wait two years before working on issues they previously lobbied. However, Smith will continue managing Ford’s government affairs while advising Granholm, a situation that Kendra Arnold, executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, calls an “obvious conflict of interest.” She states, “It’s essentially like giving a corporation an open avenue to lobby.”
As the Biden administration prioritizes climate change, committing billions of dollars to combat the “climate crisis” and usher in a “green energy economy,” China’s control of the green energy supply chain remains a challenge. China produced around 75 percent of the world’s lithium batteries in 2021, leading Ford to recognize the necessity of partnering with the communist nation to “build more EVs faster.” Ford’s collaboration with CATL highlights the ongoing difficulties in American efforts to curb reliance on Chinese technology and manufacturing.