Ford goes green at Coal Country

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GLENDALE, Ky. – When Ford revealed plans to step up its engagement in the nascent electric vehicle industry, the automaker chose to create thousands of jobs and inject billions of investments into two states where Republican leaders have vilified the green energy push and championed fossil fuels.

Teaming up with its battery partner, SK Innovation of South Korea, Ford on Monday announced it would spend $ 5.6 billion in Stanton, Tennessee, where it will build a plant to produce F-Series electric pickup trucks. A joint venture called BlueOvalSK will build a battery plant at the same site near Memphis, as well as twin battery plants in Glendale, Ky. Ford has estimated the investment in Kentucky at $ 5.8 billion. The largest manufacturing company in the company’s history will create about 10,800 jobs, according to the company.

Choosing Tennessee and Kentucky for coveted mega-projects has created an ironic disconnect between the automaker’s high-stakes bet on the future of battery-powered vehicles and the rhetoric of many Republican leaders who have opposed a transition to battery-powered vehicles. green energy and far from fossil fuels.

On Monday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell applauded Ford for giving Kentucky an economic boost, saying it solidified his home state’s position “as a leading world-class automotive state. research and development “. McConnell had touched on a different theme two months earlier, when he stood up in the Senate criticizing Democrats for wanting to “go to war on fossil fuels” and trying to turn their efforts to promote electric vehicles into a problem. corner.

“They want to further expand the giant tax giveaways for expensive electric cars – when 80% of those credits go to households earning six figures and above,” McConnell said in July. “They also want money and warrants to push the entire federal government fleet to electric cars. Wouldn’t you just love to see an IRS auditor show up for your tax audit in a 97,000 Tesla? $? “

COAL LEGACY

In Kentucky, where Republican state lawmakers recently joined Democratic Governor Andy Beshear in approving an incentive program credited with helping lure the battery project to Glendale, hostility to green power s t is focused on the decline in coal production and the erosion of well-paying mining jobs. in the regions which depend on it. The battery factories will be built in central Kentucky, a long distance from the coalfields of eastern and western Kentucky.

Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, who tweeted his thanks to Ford for his latest investment in the state, regularly lashes out at the Green New Deal. In 2019, he condemned it as a “total and deadly attack on our way of life in Kentucky” and an attack on the automakers.

Republican Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn said the project “would transform the landscape of western Tennessee.” Last month, explaining her vote against a $ 1 trillion infrastructure plan, she said much of the legislation amounted to a “gateway to socialism – a lot of Green New Deal in there.” . She said the people of Tennessee “don’t want the Green New Deal.”

Scott Jennings, a Kentuckian and former adviser to Republican President George W. Bush, said on Tuesday that politicians generally support economic development “in whatever way they can get it.”

“And like Republicans, at least most of us support the markets,” he said. “And if the market supports the production of electric vehicles, I don’t think anyone will see this as an affront to their culture or their energy heritage.”

Ford chose the Kentucky and Tennessee sites in part because of lower electricity costs, chief executive Jim Farley said, as well as being less prone to flooding and hurricanes than other states. Battery factories use five times more electricity than a typical assembly plant to make cells and assemble them into packs, so energy costs were a big factor, Farley said.

DECISION ON THE UNION

In an interview Monday, Farley said workers at factories in Tennessee and Kentucky will decide whether they want to be represented by the United Auto Workers union. It is common for political leaders in both states to actively campaign against unionization.

At the Tennessee press conference on Tuesday, UAW President Ray Curry told The Associated Press that the union has a long history with Ford and that he is optimistic about how the factories are organized. batteries and assembly plant.

He conceded that there was currently no agreement between the union and Ford for the Tennessee site.

Kentucky and Tennessee both have “right to work” laws, which prevent companies and unions from signing contracts requiring workers to pay union dues. Tennessee voters will decide next year on a constitutional amendment enshrining the right to work and making it more difficult to repeal. Curry said the amendment doesn’t complicate matters with Ford.

When asked if he thought Ford had located factories in Tennessee to avoid the union, Curry replied, “Absolutely not.”

In Glendale, a small community surrounded by corn and soybean fields about 50 miles south of Louisville, residents seemed ready to embrace new ties to the green energy movement and the fight against climate change.

“It’s good for my grandchildren,” said Wayne Noe, a retired union farmer and carpenter.

Laura Tabb said it was “fantastic” that Ford’s arrival brought Glendale to the “forefront of green technology”. She said tackling climate change shouldn’t be a political issue.

“Everyone should be okay with trying to save the planet,” she said. “Who doesn’t want to save the planet? If you are opposed to measures that will help make things greener, you are on the wrong side of history.”


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