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Democrats, Republicans aim to block Biden admin's action protecting Chinese solar companies

Democratic and Republican lawmakers are working to pass time-sensitive legislation that would roll back a rule allowing Chinese solar panel makers to skirt U.S. trade laws.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers are working to pass time-sensitive legislation that would roll back a White House rule allowing Chinese solar panel makers to circumvent U.S. trade laws.

In early June, President Biden implemented a 24-month moratorium on the enforcement of solar panel anti-circumvention tariffs introduced under the Obama administration to protect U.S. companies. The White House characterized the move as a two-year "bridge" that would allow companies to build solar panel production capabilities on U.S. soil.

The move came after the Commerce Department said months earlier it would investigate whether Chinese manufacturers were routing solar panels through countries in Southeast Asia to avoid U.S. tariffs. And in December published its preliminary findings which showed four large solar companies had routed products through Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam to circumvent duties.

"Even after the U.S. Department of Commerce determined in an investigation that solar panels imported from Southeast Asian countries were circumventing tariffs on Chinese-made solar components, the Biden Administration continued to put American manufacturers last by keeping in place a two-year tariff exemption for these solar panels," Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, told Fox News Digital.


"This decision is penalizing American workers, increasing the United States’ dependency on foreign nations for our energy needs, and harming our domestic solar manufacturing industry," Latta said. "It will take a concerted, bipartisan effort to reverse this decision to ensure our trade laws are enforced and China faces consequences for undercutting American manufacturing."

In January, Latta cosponsored bipartisan legislation introduced by Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., and Bill Posey, R-Fla., that would annul Biden's executive order and ensure foreign companies that violate U.S. trade law are held accountable. Companion legislation was also introduced in the Senate and is believed to have significant bipartisan support.


The legislation utilizes the Congressional Review Act (CRA), a law dating back nearly three decades that allows Congress to revoke federal rules. But a bill using the CRA must be passed by the House within 60 legislative days of a rule being finalized, giving lawmakers a short amount of time to reverse Biden's action on solar tariffs from June.

"We have been working hard every day to build support on both sides," said George Cecala, a spokesperson for Posey. "There is also a companion bill in the Senate. The Biden Proclamation is effective for two years, which is the amount of time China needs to dominate the solar industry and eliminate any major American competition." 

"Not enforcing our trade laws only accelerates the demise of American solar manufacturers and strengthens China’s control over the supply chain for the long term," Cecala continued. "We have been working with all of the leaders to try to get this to the floor and it’s up to them to schedule it."

Despite its bipartisan support, though, it is unclear how Republican leadership plans to move forward with the legislation. Under House rules, the bill must be released by the Ways and Means Committee, but the panel has yet to move ahead advancing the legislation. Committee Chairman Jason Smith, R-Mo., didn't respond to a request for comment.

Lauren Fine, spokesperson for Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., told Fox News Digital leadership is looking at the bill for "possible floor consideration in the near future" once it goes through the committee process. House Majority Whip Tom Emmer's office, R-Minn., declined to comment, but a person familiar suggested he is supportive of the effort.

Green energy industry groups like American Clean Power and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), meanwhile, have pushed back on the legislation and have expressed support for Biden's emergency declaration. SEIA, which counts energy utility and Chinese solar companies among its members, has argued the Commerce Department investigation had a chilling effect on the solar supply chain, hurting American jobs.


"We strongly disagree with the Commerce Department’s contradictory preliminary decision, which is not supported by the facts, and we believe it should be reversed on final review," Abigail Ross Hopper, the president and CEO of SEIA, told Fox News Digital in a statement. 

"In the absence of that, the tariff pause is the next best option to protect the livelihood of tens of thousands of American solar workers," Hopper said. "We believe most lawmakers want to grow these American jobs and the economy-fueling clean energy these workers are providing."

SEIA and American Clean Power both gave thousands of dollars to both Republicans and Democrats during the 2022 midterm election cycle. NextEra Energy, the nation's largest electric utility company and a leading solar project developer, gave $20,000 to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Scalise and Emmer, collectively, election filings showed.

A U.S. solar industry official, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from Chinese industry which continues to dominate the global solar panel supply chain, said it was "unconscionable" that Biden undermined his own administration's investigation that determined illegal circumventing activity.

"There's a reason why the Biden administration gave China a two-year free pass to violate U.S. law: it takes two years to build a wafer factory. And that's exactly what the Chinese are doing right now," the official said. 

"So when the solar emergency declaration expires, not only did the Biden administration protect them from facing any retribution from illegal trade activity, but they also gave the Chinese enough time to construct a vertical supply chain in order to avoid any U.S. tariffs on Chinese solar imports," they added. 

"I'm willing to bet that not even China's President Xi Jinping could have dreamed up such a sweetheart deal."

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