- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2022

House Oversight Committee Republicans suspect the Department of Homeland Security is using taxpayer dollars to buy solar panels and components made in China by enslaved people.

In a letter to DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, lawmakers warned about the purchase of solar panels through enslaved labor to rebuild the energy grid in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

They called for want an immediate investigation to ensure the U.S. is not directly funding genocide and abuse of the Uyghur people in China’s Xinjiang region. 

“As members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, we are writing today to express serious concern about the possibility of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funds being used to enrich China, an adversary with a record of human rights abuses and slave labor,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter was signed by Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the ranking Republican on the committee, and Rep. Bob Gibbs, Ohio Republican.

According to the State Department, the Chinese government is committing genocide against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act was signed into law in December 2021 to prevent the U.S. purchase or importation of goods made with forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, the lawmakers reminded Mr. Cuffari.

“We strongly support the UFLPA but remain troubled the United States may still possibly be using taxpayer dollars to purchase products manufactured using slave labor in direct violation of the UFLPA, and nowhere has this possibility become more real and concerning than in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, the federal government committed nearly $8 billion to assist with disaster relief in the U.S. Virgin Islands, with almost $5 billion of those dollars coming from FEMA, with a large portion of disaster relief funds being directed to rebuild the energy grid.

FEMA funds will also be used to build a new 28-megawatt solar micro-grid project on St. Croix.

“Unfortunately, almost 40% of the global production of polysilicon, a key component in solar panels, comes from the Xinjiang region, and nearly 85% of the world’s solar components are produced in China,” Mr. Comer and Mr. Gibbs said.

“This territorywide transition to solar power will potentially serve to massively enrich China. If we are not vigilant in our efforts to ensure that no solar panels or components made with slave labor are being purchased with federal dollars from FEMA or other U.S. agencies and used on similar solar projects, it is possible the United States could be directly funding the genocide and abuse occurring in China’s Xinjiang region.”

• Kerry Picket can be reached at kpicket@washingtontimes.com.

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