Joe Manchin Unveils Exciting New Reason To Screw Over Electric Vehicles!
Uncle Sam Is chill with transportation investments. Video screenshot, 'The Road Ahead: The Interstate Highway System,' Periscope Film on YouTube.

A couple weeks back, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) was talking about how he'd sure like to help Democrats get something done in Congress before the midterms, like maybe a spending plan that would roll back parts of the 2017 tax cuts and then use the new revenue to reduce the deficit and address climate change. As you'll recall, we were cautiously cautious in whatever optimism we could manage, given that Manchin owns a coal company and said the lesson of Russia's invasion of Ukraine is that we need at least as much fossil fuel expansion as green energy in order to tackle the climate emergency. Never mind that fossil fuels are causing the emergency.

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Yup, identification confirmed: This is the right Joe Manchin all right, not a lookalike.

In his latest very Hot Take on climate — entirely too hot to prevent further planetary warming — Manchin said at an energy conference in Houston last week that he just doesn't see why we'd want to switch to electric vehicles at all, because China, don't you see.

I'm very reluctant to go down the path of electric vehicles. [...] I'm old enough to remember standing in line in 1974 trying to buy gas – I remember those days. I don't want to have to be standing in line waiting for a battery for my vehicle, because we're now dependent on a foreign supply chain – mostly China.

Seems a hell of a reach to use the prime example of overdependence on oil to argue we should rely more on oil, but then, it's Joe Manchin. On Christmas eve, visions of drilling rigs dance in his head.


Manchin went on to explain that he knows a thing or two about history, and then to get history exactly, almost completely wrong. He said he has a "hard time understanding" why the government would spend money on building out a network of EV charging stations, apparently forgetting that was in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that he insisted on passing separately from the rest of Joe Biden's agenda.

"I've read history, and I remember Henry Ford inventing the Model-T, but I sure as hell don't remember the US government building filling stations – the market did that," he said. The crowd erupted with applause.

So let's, as they say, unpack this latest load of "the market did it" hooey, and the rest of Manchin's nonsense here. (Because we can't possibly wait that long, we'll spoiler you, re: the gas stations, oh yes government certainly did.)

For starters, there's the straight out weirdness of his objections to a central plank of the separate infrastructure bill he championed.

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Beyond that, like all those dipshits at the 2012 GOP convention chanting "WE built that!" (In a venue mostly built with government funding), Manchin seems awfully blind to the role that government policies and funding played in making sure we're running around on fossil fuels. Like, has he never even seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit? A key plot point in that cartoons-in-real life movie accurately reminded America that Los Angeles used to have a terrific trolley system that went belly-up — with help from General Motors and Big Oil (and yes, the reality was more complex than a simple villainous plot).

It's also weird that Manchin would simultaneously try to stir up fear that China will monopolize the market for EV batteries and mock the very idea of government investment in EVs, given that, as S&P Global notes in reporting on his comments, China's "dominance of mineral mining and refining is thanks to years of investments and policy that has catapulted the country to become a world leader in less than 10 years." Chinese free markets certainly didn't build that. The article also notes that, in addition to the funding for EV charging stations, the Infrastructure Law Joe Biden signed also "includes $7.5 billion to develop domestic supplies of key minerals" to build the very EV supply chain Manchin says we need.

The moribund Build Back Better bill, we'd note, includes even more funding to develop clean energy manufacturing and supply chains, as well as the generous tax credits that will help Americans buy EVs. Oh, we keep forgetting — EV subsidies are bad, because Manchin thinks government never ever did a thing to boost the internal-combustion auto industry. To which we say, BULLSHIT.

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It's a ridiculous fantasy to claim America's automotive infrastructure burst forth in free market glory (possibly from the forehead of Milton Friedman), as anyone who's spent five minutes reading about the Interstate Highway System knows. The federal government literally built that, pouring billions into the planning, routing, and construction of the interstates, which reshaped American cities, exacerbated racial inequality, made suburbs possible, and radically changed everything about American business, manufacturing, and leisure.

Hell, those who profited from the creation of the Interstates were delighted to inform us that, with federal and state funding, they were reshaping American life. While looking for an image to use in this piece, I found this amazing little film funded by the Caterpillar Tractor Company, which hired Walter Cronkite to talk up the glories of the nation's enormous road-building spree, all for the low low price of $50 billion in 1956 dollars (about $451 billion today, cheap!).

Like any corporate propaganda, the film leans hard on the positive, insisting the Interstates will be unambiguously beneficial. But when Cronkite says the signing of the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act in 1965 was a fundamental turning point in American history, that wasn't hyperbole at all.

The movie's a fun lunchtime watch, too, both for the "we'll eliminate traffic jams and deadly accidents" boosterism and the copious footage of bulbous late-'50s dream cars.


www.youtube.com


To put it bluntly, if Manchin thinks the modern auto industry developed purely in response to market forces, his memory is smoggy. If anything, the auto, oil, and construction industries shaped the massive government spending projects that created much of the future we now live in, for good and ill.

We'd also note that the auto industry is definitely poised for a similar boom in EV development. Ford and GM are both investing heavily in building a domestic EV battery industry, so for Crom's sake, the federal government has every reason to help that move forward more quickly.

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At the Washington Post, Yale political science prof Jacob Hacker, author of American Amnesia, notes that that

the modern roadway system, including the ubiquitous fuel station, was as much a creature of government as any major feature of our economy in the 20th century. [...]

Road planners, both state and federal, mapped out major roadways, purchased or seized land, and, in many cases, set up the well-spaced fueling franchises necessary to ensure that people could get where they wanted to go speedily. [...] Much of this was funded by gas taxes.

In short, without that “foundation of government investment and regulation,” we just plain wouldn't have cars or highways like we do now. No matter how much Manchin may want to pretend otherwise.

And as ever, Manchin very deliberately hides the central point: We need to electrify and get off fossil fuels rapidly, to keep the planet habitable for large mammals that like to get around in boats and nice (electric) cars. That's true even for large mammals who don't know, or prefer to have their own American amnesia about, their own history.

[S&P Global / WaPo / Curbed LA / image: Periscope Film on YouTube]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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