Are electric vehicles the future? Depends which Ohio Senate candidate you ask

Haley BeMiller
The Columbus Dispatch

When Tim Ryan ran for president, he went back and forth with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders over Sanders' proposal to ban gas-powered cars by 2040.

The Ohio congressman initially demurred in the 2019 debate when asked if he had concerns about the measure, prompting Sanders to rail against Democrats who are "afraid of big ideas." Ryan then clarified his point: Amid a worsening climate crisis, 2040 is too long to wait to restrict gas vehicles.

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"I hope we don't have to wait until 2050," Ryan said in a subsequent interview, referring to efforts to rely solely on renewable energy by 2050. "The way things are moving − Senator Sanders and I got into this in the debate a little bit. He was like, banning gas cars in 2040. In my mind, in all honesty, it's like okay great, whatever, but if we're waiting for 2040 to get rid of gas vehicles, we're doing something terribly wrong."

There's a stark difference between the candidates for US Senate when it comes to electric vehicles. Tim Ryan continues to be a vocal proponent of electric cars, while J.D. Vance contends a focus on that industry comes at the expense of other jobs. Richard Vogel/Associated Press

Tim Ryan, JD Vance offer differing opinions on electric vehicle industry in Ohio

Ryan is now running against Republican J.D. Vance for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Rob Portman. His campaign maintains that he doesn't support gas vehicle bans, such as one in California that requires new cars, trucks and SUVs to run on electricity or hydrogen by 2035.

Still, the comments underscore the stark difference between the candidates as manufacturers like Honda boost the electric vehicle industry in Ohio. Ryan continues to be a vocal proponent of electric cars, while Vance has called the industry a "scam" that threatens jobs in other fields.

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"Investments in Ohio by companies in the electric car supply chain are great – as long as the jobs they promise us are actually created," Vance said in a statement to the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau. "I want as many jobs as possible to come to Ohio, including for EV production. We should have a thriving automotive industry in our state, but for gas and electric vehicles, not one or the other."

The bipartisan infrastructure package supported by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan will provide funds to increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations.

Ohio becoming a hotspot for the electric car industry

Ohio has become a magnet for the electric vehicle industry in recent years.

Honda and LG are eyeing the Buckeye State for a $4.4 billion plant that would produce electric batteries for Honda vehicles, and LG already partners with General Motors to build batteries in Lordstown. The Lordstown Motors plant purchased by Foxconn earlier this year is expected to be the site of production for the electric Endurance pickup truck and a vehicle from California-based Fisker.

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Federal and state officials on both sides of the aisle have welcomed the developments and want to encourage more.

Congressman Tim Ryan, right, who is running for Senate against Republican JD Vance talks with owners of Honey Haven Farm Deb and John Boyer before he spoke with a group of farmers at Honey Haven Farm on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. TOM E. PUSKAR/ASHLAND TIMES-GAZETTE

How Ohio Senate candidates view future of electric cars

Ryan supported the bipartisan infrastructure deal signed into law last year that allocates funding to increase the number of car charging stations around the nation. He also backed a Democratic health care and climate package that provides a tax credit of up to $7,500 for people who buy electric vehicles. The credit applies only to vehicles that contain a battery built in North America with 40% of the metals mined or recycled on the continent.

Research shows that driving electric vehicles would reduce carbon emissions in most of the world, but environmental concerns persist over the fossil fuels that sustain electric grids.

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"It’s clear that the auto industry is quickly moving toward electric vehicles, and Tim knows that if the United States is to outcompete China, we need to go all-in on creating new job opportunities for Ohio workers by manufacturing affordable electric vehicles and their components right here in Ohio,” Ryan campaign spokeswoman Jordan Fuja said. “That’s why he’s fought to bring auto manufacturing supply chains back home, shore up our infrastructure, and prioritize Made in America requirements, while making sure Ohio workers have a pathway to careers in the industries of the future."

U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance talks with the Mansfield News Journal on Aug. 29.

Vance said it's important for the government to invest in new technologies, and he personally invested in a company that designed a mobile charging network for electric vehicles, according to his latest financial disclosure. At the same time, he contends the electric vehicle industry has come far enough to stand on its own merits. He also believes production will continue to benefit China as long as it controls the majority of the lithium supply, although the Democrats' climate package aims to curb that.

The "Hillbilly Elegy" author also panned the tax credits in the new law, saying they're designed to benefit wealthier Americans who are more likely to drive electric cars. Those who buy a qualifying vehicle must earn less than $150,000 individually or $300,000 as a married couple to be eligible.

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"In the rush to commercialize EVs, the federal subsidies have become so generous that they’re crowding out other forms of investment," Vance said. "What about hydrogen cars? Other types of battery technologies? More fuel efficiency in gas cars? When I say I support the government promoting new technologies, that only works if the government is agnostic about which tech it supports."

Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

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