Rivian CEO addresses environmental concerns about future EV plant

Rivian founder and CEO R.J. Scaringe watches as workers build chassis at the electric vehicle plant in Normal, Illinois. The electric vehicle company has faced backlash from locals living near the site of its new $5 billion plant that will be built about an hour east of Atlanta. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Combined ShapeCaption
Rivian founder and CEO R.J. Scaringe watches as workers build chassis at the electric vehicle plant in Normal, Illinois. The electric vehicle company has faced backlash from locals living near the site of its new $5 billion plant that will be built about an hour east of Atlanta. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Credit: TNS

R.J. Scaringe cites positive reception to Georgia plans, but acknowledges pushback from some locals.

The top executive of electric vehicle maker Rivian said the future $5 billion factory planned east of Atlanta will be a model of environmental sustainability and hailed Georgia’s diverse workforce as one that can handle its huge need for manufacturing workers.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Rivian CEO R.J. Scaringe said the company is committed to building a world-class and green manufacturing complex. He said feedback Rivian has received to date has been overwhelmingly positive, but he acknowledged a grassroots opposition effort that has raised environmental concerns about the factory’s potential impact on groundwater and wildlife.

Scaringe promised the company will be a responsible neighbor.

“Every aspect is sustainable in terms of how we set up on the site, from minimizing the number of trees that need to be removed to water usage to power usage,” he said.

Scaringe spoke to the AJC Saturday at a community event at the Georgia State University Newton campus in Covington that was part festival, part car show. It was also part of a new public push by Rivian to make inroads with community leaders and its new neighbors.

Combined ShapeCaption
Loganville resident Tony Wahab sits in a Rivian R1T electric truck at a community appreciation event hosted by Rivian on Perimeter College's Newton County campus on Saturday, May 14, 2022.

Credit: Drew Kann

Loganville resident Tony Wahab sits in a Rivian R1T electric truck at a community appreciation event hosted by Rivian on Perimeter College's Newton County campus on Saturday, May 14, 2022.

Credit: Drew Kann

Combined ShapeCaption
Loganville resident Tony Wahab sits in a Rivian R1T electric truck at a community appreciation event hosted by Rivian on Perimeter College's Newton County campus on Saturday, May 14, 2022.

Credit: Drew Kann

Credit: Drew Kann

The 39-year-old Scaringe joined attendees on rides in the company’s flagship R1T electric truck, posed for selfies and signed autographs.

The festivities were open to invited guests only, including local business leaders, elected officials, and residents who have preordered Rivian vehicles.

In December, Rivian announced plans to build an EV and battery plant at a nearly 2,000-acre site along I-20 between Social Circle and Rutledge. Rivian has enjoyed broad support statewide, but not everyone is happy that the company decided to come to this part of rural eastern Georgia, or with the bounty of tax incentives state and local development authorities dangled to lure the company.

Distrust, frustration and environmental concerns — from fears of well water contamination to wildlife destruction — have continued to fester in some pockets.

“I think there are too many stream heads, I think there are too many questions about water,” said Jennifer DeRoche, who lives with her husband, Daniel, and their children about one mile from the Rivian site. “I just don’t know why another site can’t be found that would be better suited to that much heavy industrial manufacturing.”

A Rivian spokesperson said the company plans to host a series of events over the next six to 12 months to engage the community on topics like sustainability, workforce development, and local business partnerships. Scaringe seemed eager to release more details about its Georgia campus to allay those worries, particularly environmental ones.

“This will be one of the most efficient plants in the world and we’ll really set the bar in terms of what sustainability looks like in terms of vehicle manufacturing,” Scaringe said. “I think when folks start to see and when our actions start to demonstrate that, I think it’ll help a lot.”

The state and a local development authority recently filed for wetlands permits that will take six to nine months to review. A series of state-run community meetings are expected in the months ahead.

Combined ShapeCaption
An artist's rendering shows the planned exterior of Rivian's manufacturing campus planned for a site about 45 miles east of Atlanta.

Credit: Rivian

An artist's rendering shows the planned exterior of Rivian's manufacturing campus planned for a site about 45 miles east of Atlanta.

Credit: Rivian

Combined ShapeCaption
An artist's rendering shows the planned exterior of Rivian's manufacturing campus planned for a site about 45 miles east of Atlanta.

Credit: Rivian

Credit: Rivian

Earlier this month, the company released an artist’s rendering of the campus, showing a couple strolling on a boardwalk beside a stream, with the EV plant in the distance.

Some details about Rivian’s plans for the site ― like that it will leave more than half of the factory campus unpaved — were also released when the agreement between the company and state officials was made public.

Scaringe also addressed the apprehension that exists about the change his plant and the influx of people it will bring could have on the local community. Some nearby residents, particularly around Rutledge — a town of less than 800 residents located on the plant’s doorstep — have voiced fears that the massive facility will forever change their quiet, small town.

Some change may be unavoidable with the arrival of a project of this size, Scaringe said.

“Our objective is to create lots of jobs, build an incredibly sustainable facility and pull talent in from surrounding areas,” he said. “If someone’s objective is to not have the area grow, then there’s not an easy way to resolve those differences in objectives. There just need to be conversations.”

Asked what sold him on this site in Georgia, he said the biggest factor was the strong workforce, citing its size and diversity.

“The decision to be in Georgia and the decision to be at this site was more than anything else a decision about the types of people we hope to be able to recruit to support the ramp up of the facility,” he said.

Scaringe added that as the company grows, hiring the right people remains his biggest challenge and “most exciting opportunity.”


A note of disclosure

Cox Enterprises, owner of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, owns about a 4% stake in Rivian and supplies services to the company. Sandy Schwartz, a Cox executive who oversees the AJC, is on Rivian’s board of directors and holds stock personally. He does not take part in the AJC’s coverage of Rivian.