Biden Snubs Musk? He Sought Tesla's Help Privately On His First Day In Office

President Joe Biden rarely mentions Tesla in public, but newly revealed emails show that his administration privately relied on Tesla to help shape a new policy that would allow electric vehicles to benefit from lucrative US subsidies for renewable fuels.

The emails show that on Biden's first day in office, his administration contacted Tesla, thus kicking off a process of consultation between federal officials and companies involved in the electric vehicle industry. Over the following months, the two sides held a series of meetings on renewable fuel policy reform.

The early and extensive engagement undertaken by the Biden administration demonstrated that expanding the scope of the US Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as a tool for electrifying US vehicles was one of Biden's priorities for addressing climate change. The Renewable Fuel Standard dates back to 2005 and is a federal program that requires a minimum amount of renewable fuel in transportation fuels sold in the US. So far, it has mainly subsidised corn-based ethanol.

Meanwhile, the White House's outreach to Tesla also suggests that the Biden team has been trying to engage Tesla in a key policy push for a long time, despite Biden and Tesla founder Elon Musk's public battles. Biden has set a goal that half of all new cars sold in 2030 will be zero-emission vehicles.

Asking for Tesla's help

In January 2021, on the morning Biden was sworn in as US president, EPA staffer Dallas Burkholder sent an email to Tesla's top lobbyist, Rohan Patel, asking for a meeting to discuss how to include electric vehicles in the Renewable Fuel Standard, documents show. They arranged a meeting a week later, records show.

Since then, the US EPA has held more meetings on the topic with Tesla, the group Waste Management, which represents biogas producers, Republic Services and charging station companies such as ChargePoint Holdings. The emails show that the EPA also held at least one meeting with White House staff, including climate adviser Ali Zaidi, to discuss reform.

The White House under Biden has been a staunch supporter of the electric vehicle industry, pinning its hopes of fighting climate change largely on getting more electric cars on the road. A bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year included $7.5 billion for new electric vehicle charging stations, and Biden has sought to reinstate expired tax credits to help consumers buy new vehicles.

Early indications are that the government is leaning towards a rule that would favour carmakers such as Tesla, allowing them to maximise the use of so-called "electric renewable energy identification numbers" (e-RINS). But industry sources said the reform could also extend subsidies to related industries, such as car-charging companies and landfills that supply renewable methane to power plants.

Tesla is looking to make changes to the renewable fuel standard that would allow it to earn renewable fuel credits based on kilowatt hours driven by the car or a similar metric, people familiar with the matter said. Tesla has also looked at working with biogas producers to give them leverage in any market the new rules create.

Even so, Elon Musk has often been at odds with the White House, having tweeted harsh criticism of Biden. In February, Biden publicly acknowledged Tesla's role in electric car manufacturing after Elon repeatedly complained about being ignored by Musk.

The EPA has said it is consulting "all interested stakeholders" in its policy evaluation of the Renewable Fuel Standard. Tesla and the White House have not yet commented.



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