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Chinese electric bus maker taps ex-senators for shot at billions in clean energy funds

The US subsidiary of Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD has added two former senators to its rapidly growing lobbying team as it fights over billions of dollars in federal funding to green the nation’s bus fleet.

Crossroads Strategies senior partners Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.) joined the firm’s account with Los Angeles-based BYD Motors Inc. in the second quarter of 2021, according to a new lobbying filing. The firm has lobbied for the company since April 2019 and disclosed $460,000 in payments since then.

“We think the senators have done fine service to their country and they know the truth about us,” said BYD North America spokesman Frank Girardot. “And we believe that they’re well suited to tell our story.”

The lobbying boost comes as the company is fighting a provision in a two-year-old defense authorization bill that bans federal dollars from being used to buy passenger rail cars or buses from state-owned or state-controlled enterprises. The amendment specifically targeted BYD and the state-owned Chinese Railway Rolling Stock Corp., or CRRC. The restrictions go into effect in December, just as the Joe Biden administration is preparing to spend $7.5 billion to replace “some 50,000 diesel buses — or roughly 70% of the U.S. transit fleet — with electric buses over the next eight years,” according to Reuters.

The provision was prompted by a congressional report that found that Shenzen-based BYD profited from Chinese subsidies for battery cell plants used in the company’s supply chain, according to Reuters. The Hong Kong-listed company denies any link to the Chinese government, arguing that it is eligible for the same subsidies available to any private company doing business in China while pointing out that its largest single shareholder is Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

The company also makes the point that sidelining one of the two biggest electric bus makers in the US will set back the Biden administration’s clean energy agenda to cut U.S. emissions in half by 2030. Some transit authorities meanwhile have raised concerns that eliminating BYD will lead other manufracurers to raise their prices.

“We think that for the nation to be able to replace its diesel buses, it’s going to take several manufacturers to do it,” Girardot said. “We believe we are well positioned to be one of those manufacturers as we have 40 percent of the nation’s capacity to build electric buses; we have union workers; we follow the Buy America rules; and everything about us is Build Back Better.”

Still, the company faces stiff opposition in Congress, including from Democrats supportive of the president’s green energy agenda. Rather than removing the provision, the INVEST in America Act from House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) doubles down by restricting US purchasers’ ability to exercise existing options to buy BYD buses.

“A rising China is threatening to take over the future of transportation in the world. We cannot let the Chinese do this yet again and steal those jobs from America. We have to move toward the future,” DeFazio said in a House floor speech before the House passed the bill on July 1. “We are closing the last loopholes in transit. We are going to get two Chinese companies — predatory Chinese companies — out of here, making electric buses and rail. And we are going to make all of that stuff in the United States of America and create one heck of a lot of jobs. Maybe we will even export electric buses to the rest of the world.”

Breaux and Lott are also lobbying on the DeFazio bill, according to the new lobbying filing. They also represent Chinese video app Tik-Tok.


Meet the former US lawmakers lobbying for China, Inc.

Also joining Crossroads’ BYD account in the second quarter were former Breaux congressional staffer Stephanie Leger and Thomas Lucas, a former legislative assistant to centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key swing vote in the 50-50 Senate. They join 10 other Crossroads lobbyists previously registered on the account.

Three other firms are also registered to lobby for BYD: Cline Strategic Consulting, Capitol City Group and Capitol Counsel, one of Washington’s top bipartisan lobbying firms. Capitol Counsel partners Robert Diamond, the New York state director for Biden’s 2020 campaign, and Lyndon Boozer, a longtime lobbyist with close ties to House Democratic leaders, are registered on the firm’s account.