A Chinese green energy firm backed by Michigan's state government is tearing down trees to make way for a proposed electric vehicle (EV) battery plant designed to help the state meet its climate goals.

Gotion Inc. — whose parent company is Hefei, China-based Gotion High-Tech — said it has initiated its tree-cutting process this week to make way for its controversial EV project in Mecosta County, Michigan, which has received support from Democrats and climate activists, but opposition from Republicans and national security experts. The firm said the process is legal and pushed back against concerns raised by locals.

"It’s unfortunate that some extremist groups have targeted Mecosta County area businesses that want to work with Gotion Inc. to grow and strengthen jobs in our region," said Chuck Thelen, Gotion’s vice president of North American operations.

"A small minority of people continue to spread misinformation and manufacture lies about Gotion Inc., which invariably leads some residents to act out and make threats," he continued. "Despite these attempts at intimidation, the legal selective cutting of trees will start on Feb. 14."


Gretchen Whitmer speaks

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate on January 24 in Lansing, Michigan. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Gotion first unveiled its development plans for the project in October 2022 alongside Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, agreeing to invest $2.4 billion in two 550,000-square-foot production plants and other supporting facilities across a large plot of land in Green Charter Township. Then, in August, the firm purchased 270 acres of land for the project, including land zoned for industrial, agricultural and residential use.

However, amid increasing opposition to the project over Gotion's ties to the Chinese Communist Party, the project has faced delays even as the Whitmer administration has earmarked nearly $200 million in taxpayer funding for the development. While mass tree-cutting to make way for construction was originally slated to occur late last year, the process was delayed until this week.


Crain's Detroit Business reported earlier this week that one local logging business had been awarded the contract but ultimately backed out over the sustained local opposition, saying they didn't want to be "tied up in a bunch of gobbledygook." The opposition appears to have been spearheaded, in part, by Marjorie Steele, the founder of the Economic Development Responsibility Alliance of Michigan.

Li Zhen, founder and chairman of Gotion High Tech Co., during the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore, on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023. The New Economy Forum is being organized by Bloomberg Media Group, a division of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

Li Zhen, the founder and chairman of Gotion High Tech, speaks during the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore, on November 10, 2023. Gotion High-Tech's corporate bylaws say the company is required to "carry out Party activities in accordance with the Constitution of the Communist Party of China." (Lionel Ng/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

"To date, Gotion has applied for no environmental permits through EGLE, no soil erosion permits through the county, and has presented no site plan to local or state agencies. Yet Gotion is preparing to log the site before the end of the month," Steele wrote to the local U.S. Environmental Protection Agency office last month.

"This environmental situation is about to come to a head," she continued. "We as representatives of the local community ask once more, urgently, that EPA Region 5’s offices take action on the federal oversight required of this development, before violations occur."


In a statement to Fox News Digital, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy spokesperson Jeff Johnston confirmed that Gotion has yet to file any permit applications with the agency regarding its project or tree-cutting plans. However, he said that permits are only required if the work is to be done on wetlands.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer engages in a conversation with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, left, and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, center, on September 19, 2023, in New York City. Gotion has developed plans in both Michigan and Illinois. (John Nacion/WireImage via Getty Images)

"Cutting trees does not require a permit from EGLE if the cutting does not occur within a regulated wetland," Johnston said.

In addition to locals, the project has received pushback from state and federal lawmakers, in addition to national security experts. In a House hearing last month, former CIA Directors Leon Panetta and Mike Pompeo warned that Gotion's project could be covertly used by Chinese assets for espionage.


This week, Republican Michigan state Sens. Jonathan Lindsey and Lana Theis demanded the Whitmer administration to halt funding for the project in light of the concerns raised by Panetta and Pompeo.

"National security experts from both sides of the aisle have sounded the alarm about China’s attempts to infiltrate and compromise our safety through industrial espionage," Lindsey said in a statement on Wednesday. "Yet, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer continues to ignore their warnings and further place our state and nation at risk — while using taxpayer dollars to do so."

Whitmer's office didn't respond to a request for comment.