Democrats are divided over the Biden administration’s investigation into whether China is upending U.S. tariffs on solar panels that opponents say are weakening the clean energy industry.
The U.S. Commerce Department is determining whether foreign adversaries are funneling key solar panel components through neighboring countries to illegally bypass U.S. taxes, an investigation that critics have forced to end to lift its grip on U.S. solar projects
But a new coalition of Democrats supporting the investigation has emerged, underscoring the divisions within the party. They urged the Biden administration not to succumb to “overwhelming special interest political pressure” and not allow Beijing to cheat on tariffs that could hurt U.S. manufacturing.
“Emphasis and reiterates this: These laws are designed to ensure that U.S. manufacturers and producers can compete on a level playing field and are not subject to unfair trade practices,” Democrats who support the investigation said Thursday in a message to President Biden. wrote in the letter. “It’s troubling that the corporate lobby against a simple inquiry has reached this level of mass hysteria without fear of what career civil servants at the DOC might find.”
Those Democrats include Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania; Rep. Marcy Kaptur and Tim Ryan of Ohio; Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania; and Terri Sewell of Alabama.
About 80 percent of imported solar panels come from four countries that allegedly helped China avoid tariffs: Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, according to the American Clean Energy Association.
Critics say the Commerce Department investigation has put the solar industry in jeopardy. According to a recent survey of businesses by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), this has resulted in the delay or cancellation of more than 500 small and utility-scale projects, and jeopardized tens of thousands of jobs as imports stopped.
Democrats who praised the survey acknowledge that it is affecting the clean energy they promote to combat climate change. However, they believe it is necessary to protect long-term U.S. interests and businesses.
“Above all, short-term supply disruptions in the solar supply chain are not a reason to abandon trade enforcement,” they wrote in the letter. “In fact, these short-term disruptions will almost certainly turn into long-term problems if trade enforcement is abandoned.”
Democrats have also targeted SEIA, which has been at the forefront of lobbying against the tariff probe. They said the group had a commercial interest in ending the investigation because SEIA represented several Chinese manufacturers.
In a statement, SEIA President and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper slammed those who praised the investigation, saying accusations of SEIA being influenced by China are “ridiculous and plainly wrong. , those who suggest otherwise are fundamentally dishonest.”
“We’re working to end a worthless trade case that has hampered the fight against climate change and wasted tens of billions of dollars in clean energy investment in America,” Ms Hopper said. “This case has brought the U.S. solar industry to its knees. It stopped critical clean energy development and, ironically, cut off supply to domestic manufacturers.”
Lawmakers from both parties echoed SEIA’s arguments and concerns.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was grilled by senators during a congressional hearing earlier this month. She argues that her hands are essentially tied because current laws require them to investigate, and she defends the agency’s role. Ms Raimondo also rejected pressure from MPs to intervene and speed up the investigation.
Her testimony did little to assuage lawmakers’ concerns. Democratic opponents continue to speak out and speak out against the administration’s investigation.
As Ms. Rosen said, earlier this week Democratic Senators Jackie Rosen and Katherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Tom Carper of Delaware, Michael Jackson of Colorado Bennett and New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich publicly demanded that the DOC quickly “end their job-killing investigation.”
More than a dozen House Democrats have also sought to increase the pressure by outlining their “serious concerns about the devastating economic and environmental impact” in a letter to Mr Biden.
The political storm that erupted was the result of small California solar panel maker Auxin Solar. Earlier this year, it sparked an investigation through a petition outlining possible wrongdoing in China.
The industry and lawmakers have pointed their frustrations directly at Auxin, prompting CEO Mamun Rashid to recently hit back at his critics who questioned how a single company could bring an entire industry to a screeching halt.
Mr Rashid told the manufacturing podcast Manufacturing Report that the remarks made by government officials against his company and the investigation were “irresponsible” and a “smear of the offices they occupy”.
“We have zero fear of competition. I will compete with other manufacturers all day long. I welcome other manufacturers coming online in the U.S. and we will compete all day long as long as the playing field is level,” he said. “If we lose, that’s our responsibility. We can compete, that’s what we say, it’s just a level playing field.”