Senator Jon Ossoff Breaks A Key Battery Bottleneck

The new Georgia Senator saved a battery plant in Georgia, helping to undermine Chinese control over a critical input.

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One of the thorniest policy problems to come before the Biden administration is over a new $2.6 billion Korean electric battery plant in Georgia. SK Innovations, a South Korean battery company, was both exporting batteries from Korea, and building a domestic plant to produce batteries, for automakers like Ford. Batteries are a critical input for electric cars, which is the centerpiece of the Biden green energy plan, as well as what everyone knows is the coming electrification of our infrastructure.

Trade law, however, doesn’t let thieves export to the United States. And SK Innovations’ rival, the older and more established LG Energy Solution, accused them of theft. The U.S. International Trade Commission agreed, noting SK Innovations had stolen intellectual property and destroyed documents,. The commission ruled that SK Innovations couldn’t sell batteries in the U.S.

The President can overrule the ITC, but it’s a dicey proposition to do so, because it then means that other countries won’t respect our trade claims when their national interests are involved. It was a really tough decision, because batteries matter and Georgia as a swing state matters. Moreover, this industry is one the Chinese government has explicitly sought to monopolize, because it’s an industry of the future.

The Chinese government doesn’t mess around when it comes to supply chains. The CCP sees control of critical industrial bottlenecks as a means to project geopolitical power, and nowhere is that more evident than in industries of the future. One of the results of the collapse of the free trade consensus is that American policymakers have begun re-shoring supply of such critical inputs, and this Korea-built Georgia factory was one of the higher profile attempts.

Enter Senator Jon Ossoff, the youngest member of the Senate. There’s no other way to say it except that he just worked hard to mediate a settlement, facilitating SK Innovations paying LG a bunch of money and then LG in turn allowing the plant construction to move forward. Ossoff flew to meet SK Innovation’s CEO, prodding him for more than three hours to strike a deal. Ossoff’s staff stayed involved, coordinated with the administration, and Ossoff himself prodded when necessary. After the deal was reached, SK called out Ossoff specifically for his help.

Political leaders who actually try to wield power is a rarity in Washington, because doing so requires an unusual mix of talent, boldness, and ambition. Votes are just one, and not the most important, aspect of wielding power. Convening, cajoling, and working the levers of bureaucracies to achieve something significant is often what matters. It’s what John McCain used to do, which is one reason he was so respected. It’s why Elizabeth Warren is feared, and why Mitch McConnell can run the Republican Party.

I’m very happy to see that the youngest Senator has an attention to bureaucratic details and a focus on what matters. And the results, in this case, speak for themselves.