“To qualify for a credit, an E.V.’s “final assembly” must occur in North America. If that sounds complicated for a consumer to figure out, the Department of Energy recommends searching individual cars by Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) “to identify a vehicle’s build plant and country of manufacture.” Past that, at least 40 percent of the battery’s minerals and 50 percent of its components must be sourced either from the U.S. or a country with which it has a “free trade agreement.” Those numbers will go up each year until they reach 80 percent and 100 percent, respectively. Meeting only one percentage requirement and not the other qualifies for half of the credit ($3,750).
The rules were written to exclude China. But China owns or controls the overwhelming majority of materials used in E.V. batteries. Not to mention, the European Union also lacks a free trade agreement with the United States. According to the Energy Department, only 14 vehicle models qualify for the full credit: five from Chevrolet, four from Tesla, two from Ford, and one each from Cadillac, Chrysler, and Lincoln. Some others qualify for half-credits due to sourcing requirements—for example, Ford manufactures the Mustang Mach-E’s battery in Poland—but American companies noticeably account for every single qualifying vehicle.
That’s a great deal for those four companies—Ford, General Motors, Stellantis, and Tesla—but a bad deal for everybody else. Numerous foreign automakers sell E.V.s in the U.S. but are disqualified from tax credits unless they build the vehicles domestically using parts sourced in a very specific way. Meanwhile, two versions of the Chevrolet Bolt—which uses outdated battery technology and was briefly taken off the market in 2021 when its batteries were catching on fire—qualify for the full tax credit under the new rules. So even though a consumer might find the similarly priced Nissan Leaf to be more reliable, a $7,500 tax credit might sway them away from it. That would be a boon to Chevrolet’s bottom line as it still gets to charge full price for the car, and the U.S. government will reimburse the purchaser at tax time.”
“The Biden administration has framed its new, tighter “Buy American” regulations as a way to bolster domestic manufacturing and benefit parts of the country that have been left behind by technological innovation.
To many of those same communities, the White House has promised better connectivity and higher internet speeds. The bipartisan infrastructure plan signed by President Joe Biden in 2021 dedicated $42 billion to expanding broadband access, with much of the funding aimed at laying fiber optic lines in parts of the country where they don’t exist.
There’s one small problem with all this: Finding enough fiber optic cables that comply with the Buy American rules.”
“Under Biden’s Buy American rules, 55 percent of the component parts of any product used in a federal construction project must be sourced in the United States. That disqualifies any imports of finished cable, but it also wipes out most of the available American-made supply since many of the component parts are sourced overseas.”
“Another problem, according to a Bloomberg report earlier this week, is that building a fiber optic network requires more than just fiber optic cable. You also need switches, terminals, routers, and other pieces of tech that are mostly imported or manufactured with imported components. In both cases, the Buy American requirements mean broadband companies can’t use those parts for projects funded with federal funding from the infrastructure bill.
That means less infrastructure gets built, and lots of perfectly good American-made fiber optic cable doesn’t get purchased, simply because less than 55 percent of its components happened to come from somewhere else.”
“These requirements have long been found to increase the costs of infrastructure projects, but the promise of creating even more cost-increasing American jobs makes them a popular provision.
The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which Biden signed into law in November 2021 re-upped requirements that federally funded infrastructure use American-made iron and steel. It also expanded those requirements to construction materials like drywall, copper wire, fiber optic cables, and lumber.”
“Those requirements were supposed to kick in within 180 days of the law’s passage. Right before they did, the Biden administration’s Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a sweeping 180-day waiver for new Buy America provisions for construction materials, citing the cost and complexity of complying with those provisions.
Public comments from state departments of transportation, public transit agencies, and contractors all generally supported this waiver and, in fact, asked that it last for at least 18 months and as long as four years.
The reason is pretty straightforward: Buy America provisions greatly increase the costs of infrastructure projects.”
“Expanding Buy America provisions, and cracking down on waivers, are a staple of all administrations and most State of the Union addresses. The fact they keep exempting themselves from these requirements shows that Biden—and his predecessors—understand at some level that they’re a bad idea.”
“”Contrary to conventional wisdom, imports are not a drag on the U.S. economy or the price we pay to sell goods and services abroad. In fact, rising imports coincide with stronger economic growth,” Scott Lincicome and Alfredo Carrillo Obregon write in The (Updated) Case for Free Trade, a Cato Institute study published in May. “The payoff to the United States from expanded trade between 1950 and 2016 was $2.1 trillion, increasing GDP per capita by around $7,000 and GDP per household by around $18,000.”
“Higher imports are also correlated with higher private‐sector employment in the United States, as numerous industries and workers depend on trade,” they add.”
“Could high tariffs and “buy American” policies compel firms to find domestic suppliers? Well, maybe. But foreign sources were chosen for a reason; replacing them with domestic suppliers will require compromises. “Subsidising electric cars assembled in North America will make them more expensive and lower-quality,” The Economist cautioned of protectionist policies. And since politicized policy tends to breed yet more politicization, tariffs and subsidies will inevitably be further burdened with conditions. “The red tape will raise costs to consumers and taxpayers still further.””
“The Buy American program created by the Inflation Reduction Act gives Americans tax credits for purchasing electric vehicles (EVs) manufactured in the United States, Canada, or Mexico. However, these tax credits will not only be paid for by taxpayer dollars, they also stand to ignite a trade war with the European Union.
The majority of EVs are manufactured in China, followed by Germany and the United States. Regarding the minerals used in lithium batteries, the U.S. is at a disadvantage. In 2020, the U.S. ranked 15th in supplying battery materials, with the top three countries being China, Australia, and Brazil. The International Energy Agency notes that “the top three producing nations control well over three-quarters of global output.” Biden’s corporate welfare policy requires batteries to derive 40 percent of their mineral components from a mine in the U.S. or a country with which the U.S. has a free trade agreement. However, only five countries among the top 25 producers of minerals used in EV batteries have a free trade agreement with the U.S.
The U.S. could conceivably increase its mineral output with regulatory reform, says Scott Lincicome, director of general economics and trade policy at the Cato Institute. “The big problem is on the regulatory side, particularly on the permitting side of state-level equivalents….this makes mining and processing rare-earth materials here very difficult.”
The Buy American program also risks trade conflicts. E.U. French President Emmanuel Macron went so far as to say, “We need a Buy European Act like the Americans. We need to reserve [our subsidies] for our European manufacturers.” With the U.S. and Europe trending towards protectionism, Lincicome says restrictions will inherently “reduce adoption and consumption of whatever is targeted.”
Another fear that comes with protectionism is the retaliatory environment it creates. “Protectionism gets nasty, it gets political, and it spirals, and it’s very difficult to stop the cycle,” says Lincicome. Should a trade war begin over EVs, it could expand to other products, driving up prices.”
“Buy American provisions ensure we won’t get nearly as much infrastructure for the money as we otherwise could.
That’s because domestically manufactured materials and products often cost more than foreign alternatives. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have to require that project sponsors use them.
Buying American steel for infrastructure projects costs around twice as much as importing it from China, according to a 2019 Congressional Research Report. That requirement cost American roadbuilders an additional $2 billion from 2009 to 2011, back when then-Vice President Biden was overseeing the spending of stimulus dollars on infrastructure projects.
Procuring American-made buses means that we pay twice as much as Japan and Korea do for their rolling stock. Our train cars cost as much 34 percent more because we insist on buying domestically.
Because these requirements can be so onerous, federal departments often grant exemptions to Buy American rules when they make projects economically infeasible. Biden is making sure fewer projects get those cost-saving exemptions.”
“The bill is also larded up with provisions that will make infrastructure projects more costly for taxpayers. That matters, of course, because if you inflate the cost of building a bridge and you have a fixed amount of money to spend on new bridges, you’ll get fewer bridges.
For example, the bill’s “Buy American” provision is nothing more than performative patriotism and a handout to politically powerful unions. By mandating that materials used in road, bridge, and rail projects come primarily from the United States, Congress will effectively hike prices and engage in arbitrary protectionism.”
“The infrastructure bill could have been an opportunity to reform other federal rules that unnecessarily drive up the cost of building infrastructure. Like the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires that most workers on federally subsidized building projects are paid the local “prevailing wage” negotiated by unions even if the workers themselves are not unionized—and only about 13 percent of construction workers are part of a union. The Davis-Bacon Act rules can increase the costs of infrastructure projects by as much as 20 percent.
Similarly, the infrastructure package could have suspended or eliminated parts of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in order to streamline environmental reviews of infrastructure projects. Currently, NEPA reviews take more than four years on average, and they are frequently used as tools to block development for reasons that often have little to do with the environment.”
“When the transit agency that serves Washington, D.C., replaced its aging trains during the last decade, it ended up paying about $400 million more than global averages—the equivalent of an additional 150 cars.
One major reason for the higher costs, according to economists with the American Action Forum who studied the D.C. Metro’s procurement process, was a federal mandate first imposed in 1982. It requires that equipment purchased by federally subsidized transit agencies contain at least 60 percent American-made components.”
“The cost of “Buy American” provisions can be significant. An analysis by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a pro-trade think tank, found that “Buy American” rules on the books in 2017 cost taxpayers $94 billion that year—$745 per household.”
“Overpaying for subway cars didn’t make the D.C. Metro safer or more efficient. All it did was force riders and taxpayers to spend more for less. The same will be true of Biden’s policies.”