A group of congressional Democrats has warned that President Biden is using his emergency powers to reward China for potentially violating U.S. trade law and that his actions could hurt American manufacturing.
They have been cheering a Commerce Department investigation into whether China circumvented U.S. solar tariffs through other Asian countries. But other Democrats and solar advocates have said the probe is crushing the industry and jeopardizing hundreds of clean energy projects and thousands of jobs nationwide.
In response to rising fuel prices, Mr. Biden this week used his emergency authority to suspend U.S. tariffs on solar panels and components for two years from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, which account for roughly 80% of imported panels and other crucial parts.
The Democratic critics now argue that Mr. Biden has undermined his administration’s investigation of tariff evasion by China, which is suspected of diverting its solar trade through other countries.
“The United States should not be rewarding foreign competitors under investigation for potentially cheating American solar manufacturers and our workers,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat running for Senate. “Waiving these tariffs for two years sends the message to our adversaries that our trade enforcement laws can be easily undermined through aggressive political lobbying.”
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, also an Ohio Democrat, said that “any effort that further tilts the playing field in favor of China is wrong for the American workers who are fed up with predatory trade practices.”
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Reps. Mike F. Doyle of Pennsylvania and Terri A. Sewell of Alabama, as well as Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, are among the Democrats vocally advocating for Commerce’s investigation.
The probe, however, suffered sharp bipartisan criticism that it is kneecapping solar projects.
The White House said the rare step of using presidential authority to waive the tariffs was necessary to prevent summer blackouts from a shortage of electricity generation.
Commerce said its inquiry will continue as planned.
Mr. Brown said the U.S. needs to “continue to investigate and continue to expose what China‘s doing.” He also said American solar capacity lacks adequate funding and that “we have not addressed China’s repeated cheating.”
Mr. Casey declined to offer criticism. Instead, he praised Mr. Biden for what he viewed as balancing two priorities: combating climate change and protecting manufacturing jobs.
“I think they did a good job of balancing difficult interests. We can do both,” he said.
Commerce has said its tariff investigation was legally required after allegations of China’s tariff cheating were made by Auxin Solar, a small California-based solar products manufacturer.
Auxin Solar CEO Mamun Rashid questioned the legality of Mr. Biden’s suspension of tariffs.
“He has opened the door wide for Chinese-funded special interests to defeat the fair application of U.S. trade law,” he said.
As part of the emergency orders, Mr. Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to force more clean energy production, including solar panels, building insulation, heat pumps and power grid infrastructure like transformers.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell labeled the move a “joke.” The Kentucky Republican said it would ultimately “end up subsidizing Chinese suppliers upstream” because of America’s dependence on the Asian country for crucial components like polysilicon and rare Earth minerals required for clean energy products.