The Biden administration is awarding $2.8 billion in federal grants to 20 companies that are involved in the production of electric vehicle batteries, the White House announced Wednesday. The funding for the grants was provided in the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that President Joe Biden signed into law last November.
The grants will focus on the supply chain of materials needed to produce electric vehicles, with an emphasis on developing domestic sources and processing capabilities of key materials including lithium, graphite and nickel. China and other foreign producers currently dominate the supply of many crucial components used in electric vehicles.
One project receiving funding involves building the first large-scale commercial lithium electrolyte salt production facility in the U.S., with the goal of producing enough lithium for 2 million electric vehicles per year, the Energy Department said. (For more details on the projects being funded, see this White House Fact Sheet.)
“Producing advanced batteries and components here at home will accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels to meet the strong demand for electric vehicles, creating more good-paying jobs across the country,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.
Fossil fuels still in focus: Biden addressed more immediate energy concerns by releasing 15 million barrels of oil from the U.S. strategic reserve. The move, which completes a drawdown of 180 million barrels the president authorized earlier this year, comes after a group of oil-producing nations led by Saudi Arabia announced cutbacks in production of up to 2 million barrels a day to boost prices – and ahead of a crucial midterm election in which voters are expressing worries about rising prices for all kinds of essentials, including gasoline.
In remarks delivered at the White House, Biden emphasized the substantial decrease in fuel costs since summer. “Let me repeat: Gas prices have come down and they continue to come down again,” he said. “But they're not falling fast enough.”
Gasoline prices are still higher than many consumers — and the White House — would like. While the average price per gallon of gas has fallen to $3.85 from a high of $5 in June, it’s still well above the pandemic-influenced level of $2.40 per gallon in place when Biden was inaugurated.
The withdrawal leaves the supply of oil in the U.S. strategic reserve at about 400 million barrels, the lowest level in nearly 40 years. The administration says it will start to refill the reserve when oil prices drop below about $70 a barrel, or $15 lower than the current price.
Biden denied that the move is politically motivated, but his partisan critics took raised questions about the timing of the release. “Our oil reserves do not exist to win midterms,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said Tuesday. “They exist to help this country in an emergency or in the midst of a storm.”