U.S. President Joe Biden has issued an emergency declaration that prevents the Department of Commerce from punishing solar panel companies which violate U.S. law by using Chinese government subsidies, dirty coal production, and Uyghur slave labour.
The move, which was issued as an emergency measure on Monday, was pushed by the White House to boost crucial supplies to solar manufacturers. Furthermore, Biden declared a two-year tariff exemption on solar panels originating from southeast Asia to kickstart progress toward the administration's goals of fighting climate change.
Biden’s invocation of the Defense Production Act and other executive orders follows complaints from the green energy industry over the delays in the production of solar panels and other related equipment due to supply chain problems created by a Commerce Department inquiry into violations involving products made in China.
In March, the Department of Commerce announced that it was investigating imports of solar panels from southeast Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Cambodia over concerns that products from those nations were bypassing U.S. rules limiting Chinese imports, AP News reported.
Clean energy leaders have long warned that the investigation — which could result in retroactive tariffs of up to 240% — would severely hinder the U.S. solar industry, leading to thousands of layoffs and imperiling up to 80% of planned solar projects around the country.
The department counters that rates exceeding 200% for solar products would not apply to the vast majority of imports. They instead typically apply to uncooperative companies that cannot differentiate themselves from China’s government or Communist Party.
Still, any possible punishment might have jeopardized one of Biden’s top clean energy goals and run counter to his administration’s push for renewable energy such as wind and solar power, advocates argue.
Essentially there was concern that Chinese companies were skirting U.S. regulations by using third-party countries as middlemen for their exports to the United States.
When pressed by journalists at a press conference on Monday, White House Press. Sec. Karine Jean-Pierre deflected questions on China and said that Biden’s invocation of the Defense Production Act was “to make sure he’s delivering for the American people.”
“He is putting the full force of the federal government behind supporting American clean energy producers,” Jean-Pierre said, evading inquiries into Uyghur slave labor.
In February 2021, Biden refused to criticize China’s policies, dismissing the issue of Uyghur slave labor as a result of “different norms.”
“Culturally there are different norms that each country and their leaders are expected to follow,” he said.
In January 2021, then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo officially declared China’s treatment of the Uyghurs population to be “genocide” and “crimes against humanity.”