“Where will the toxic waste end up? How will Austin ensure that it doesn’t pollute the water?” These words found within a letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler from environmentalist groups represent the concerns some have over a proposed expansion of the Tesla Gigafactory in Texas. At a time when Tesla Giga Texas is growing in its production, the letter also represents the latest salvo in an ongoing tug-of-war between the factory and its opponents.
On the surface, the complaints may sound a bit contradictory. Tesla is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of electric vehicles, which are supposed to benefit the environment through reduced carbon emissions. The Tesla Gigafactory concept is also supposed to be environmentally friendly in that it concentrates manufacturing in one place instead of shipping materials long distances. Gigafactories are located all around the world, from Texas to Germany to China, giving more people access to vehicles and solar solutions.
But Texas environmentalist groups say that Tesla needs to do more to protect the local environment in Austin, Texas. In their letter, they argue that by expanding, Tesla Giga Texas will be “disregarding the negative impacts on human and environmental health.” Many of the concerns stem from the factory’s battery production, its effects on local drinking water, and what they call failed promises from the company.
How Tesla Giga Texas Plans to Expand
“I can’t wait to see this baby in production, it’s going to be epic.”Elon Musk
Tesla first opened the Texas Gigafactory on April 7, 2022, in what Elon Musk promoted as a Cyber Rodeo. The new factory had the goal of increasing the overall production capacity for Tesla in the United States. It would also be the place where the company would manufacture its new Tesla cybertruck.
By May, production had grown so much that Tesla was already discussing expansion plans. In an interview, Musk defended the idea, saying growing factories was crucial due to “economies of scale and technology” helping Tesla remain competitive. In June, Tesla reportedly filed the plans, expanding the factory by 500,000 square feet.
While the current factory focuses on the production of the Tesla Model Y car, and could even lead to Tesla semi production, the expansion would reportedly handle more battery production, possibly after moving from Gigafactory Berlin to Giga Texas. The result would be a building that is a full mile in length.
Why Environmentalists Are Concerned
The news of the expansion was not welcomed by environmentalist groups, who sent a letter in May asking Austin’s Mayor and the Austin City Council to withhold any Tesla permits. The leading groups behind the letter include People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources (PODER), the Texas Anti-Poverty Project (TAPP), and the Hornsby Bend Alliance.
In their letter, they lay out the main concerns they have for the expansion project. One issue the groups have is with how Tesla will manage battery production and waste. According to them, the “manufacturing process will require a substantial amount of water and chemicals, and result in a significant hazardous waste stream.” They ask where the resulting waste will end up.
Additionally, the groups take issue with the factory’s connection with Austin Water, stating that Tesla “will consume nearly 400 million gallons of water per year for their operations.” They say that low-income communities nearby instead have to pay twice as much for what they need compared to Tesla.
Ultimately, they say that the company “has failed to meaningfully engage nearby residents” regarding these issues. The groups claim that instead of preserving nature as the company promised, Tesla has instead “cleared swaths of trees, moved mountains of dirt, filled in ponds, and poured over 100 contiguous acres of concrete for its factory.” They want Tesla Giga Texas to follow through on its pledge to be more environmentally conscious and to reach out to the community and address their concerns.
How Elon Musk Has Responded to the Backlash of Tesla Giga Texas
To date, Elon Musk has yet to comment directly on the issue, nor has Tesla produced a press release about it. However, it would be safe to say that he likely doesn’t care for the protests from environmental groups. On the same day that the Austin groups sent their letter, Musk tweeted about Tesla getting kicked off the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) index, calling ESG a “scam” and a result of “a case of wacktivism.”
Musk isn’t shy about commenting on controversies and conflicts, especially on Twitter, so the fact that he has yet to make a statement about the letter seems to indicate he’s choosing to ignore it.
Who Will Win the Battle Over the Expansion?
All signs point to Tesla continuing to expand its Giga Texas operations, providing more work for people in the area. The company has already announced they’re planning to have a significant increase in production for their Model Y cars in the first quarter of 2023. A recently captured drone video also discovered that Tesla Texas has acquired some new cybertruck production robots. That would indicate any environmental protests are in the rearview mirror for the company.
The city of Austin has likewise not responded to the letter. Considering the concessions Austin has already made to Tesla to bring the Gigafactory to Texas, it’s not unreasonable to think that the letter will largely be ignored.
There’s also the question of how influential the environmental groups are in the first place. For example, the Texas Anti-Poverty project only has a Facebook page, and no content appears to be publicly available right now. The PODER group appears more organized, and on their website, they list the letter to the Austin City Council as one of their campaigns, but the group has provided no updates on it. Similarly, PODER’s Facebook page hasn’t posted about Tesla since the month before they sent the letter.
Other Issues at Tesla Giga Texas
It may be that Tesla and Elon Musk are saving their energy and resources addressing other issues with Tesla Giga Texas. In November 2022, construction workers at the Gigafactory filed a complaint with the Department of Labor stating the company exploited them during the construction of the building. The complaint claims Tesla didn’t do enough to ensure a safe working environment or protect wages. With this battle on its hands, it’s easy to imagine the company will focus more on this pressing issue rather than the environmental concerns.
Tesla Giga Texas will continue producing vehicles. How much the factory expands remains to be seen, but Tesla does have quite a bit of momentum on their side. What happens in the future at the Austin site as well as Tesla sites all around the world will be interesting to watch.
As the public face of Tesla, learn more about Elon Musk’s leadership style and how he runs the organization. You can also discover more information about Musk by reading the following articles:
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- Hawkins, Andrew. “Tesla Officially Opens Texas Gigafactory.” The Verge, 8 Apr. 2022, https://www.theverge.com/2022/4/8/23008731/tesla-texas-gigafactory-open-cybertruck-elon-musk.
- “E69: Elon Musk on Twitter’s Bot Problem, SpaceX’s Grand Plan, Tesla Stories, Giga Texas & More.” YouTube, 16 May 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnxzrX9tNoc.
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