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Georgia lawmakers urge avoiding penalties for vehicle battery maker

  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Mar. 23, 2021 - 3:20 PM

By Beau Evans, Staff Writer, Capitol Beat News Service

Georgia state lawmakers are pushing for an alternative to penalties that would halt construction of a $2.6 billion electric-vehicle battery plant in Jackson County amid trade-secrets theft allegations.

South Korean manufacturer SK Innovation, which has hired 250 people for the plant so far and pledged to hire thousands more, was slapped last month with a ruling by the U.S. International Trade Commission that found it pilfered trade secrets from rival battery maker LG Chem.

The commission imposed a 10-year exclusion order barring the U.S. from importing SK Innovation’s lithium-ion batteries, effectively scuttling work on the Northeast Georgia plant that has been touted as a boon for the state’s manufacturing industry.

Lawmakers in the Georgia Senate unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday calling on SK Innovation and LG Chem to negotiate a settlement without having to close the local plant in order to preserve jobs and "protect the United States' competitive edge in electric vehicle battery production and supply chain."

An earlier version of the resolution had pressed President Joe Biden to ditch the commission’s ruling, noting he has authority as president to do so. It was revised after input from Senate Democrats.

The revised resolution now heads to the state House of Representatives for that chamber’s backing.

Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, stressed the loss of SK Innovation’s plant would cost Georgia billions of dollars in public and private investments while putting hundreds of people out of work.

“Georgia has significant economic investment in this,” Miller said from the Senate floor. “This is a real opportunity for Georgia to lead in another great manufacturing way.”

Democratic senators joined Republicans including Gov. Brian Kemp in backing the measure, noting that while the theft accusations against SK Innovation are troubling, a solution should be reached that would avoid scrapping the plant project entirely.

“I think this is the time to push both of these companies when there is uncertainty among both before it comes to the president,” said Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta. “Hopefully, these folks can come together and make sure these people stay employed.”

The plant set for construction in Jackson County marks the second SK Innovation battery plant located near the city of Commerce. The two plants aim to supply the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., the Ford plant in Kentucky and possibly the BMW plant near Greenville, S.C.