The House of Representatives passed a resolution on Friday morning to revoke President Joe Biden’s moratorium on solar panel tariffs for several Southeast Asian nations.
These countries have reportedly been used by Chinese companies linked to forced labor to assemble products and circumvent U.S. tariffs.
The resolution secured a 221 to 202 majority, backed by most Republicans and 12 Democrats.
Supporters argued that the legislation is essential for bolstering the U.S. solar industry while simultaneously holding China accountable for tariff evasion and human rights violations.
In contrast, some Democratic detractors pointed to opposition from industry trade groups, which have reaped profits from the importation and installation of cheaply made Chinese solar panels.
[RELATED: Maine Solar Power Project Linked to Chinese Forced Labor…]
President Biden has threatened to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.
Nevertheless, several Democratic senators have announced support for the resolution.
The resolution would reinstate tariffs on Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, which a Commerce Department investigation found were being exploited by Chinese firms to bypass U.S. tariffs on their products.
According to Bloomberg, these four nations account for roughly 80% of U.S. solar panel inventory.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has criticized the resolution, arguing that it would impose $1 billion in tariffs and cause 30,000 job losses in the industry. The group believes that Biden’s waiver serves as a “strategic bridge” allowing domestic manufacturing time to ramp up to a level needed to supply U.S. projects.
The bipartisan effort to reinstate tariffs on solar imports from the four Asian nations is supposed to boost domestic solar manufacturers, who claim they cannot compete with cheaply products made overseas. Human rights advocates suspect that one of the primary reasons solar panels sourced from China are inexpensive is because some of the labor used in their supply chains is forced labor.
The Senate could take up its resolution of disapproval, S.J. Res. 15 (118), as soon as next week. Under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), the resolution requires only a simple majority vote to pass.
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Federal trade policy on solar and China may have a large impact on the state of Maine in light of Gov. Janet Mills’ lofty renewable energy goals.
Mills’ “Lead By Example” program has committed state government to building new wind and solar power capacity, which means increased prices on photovoltaic solar modules could throw a wrench into the green energy gears.
The state’s most recent solar project, for example, may have benefitted from companies that exploited the very loophole the House resolution aims to close.
A Maine Wire investigation in January found that solar panels used for a Maine Department of Transportation project in Augusta may have been produced in western China using forced labor.
A representative from Cenergy Power, the lead contractor on the operation, told the Maine Wire at the time that the solar panels had been shipped to Maine via Thailand, raising the possibility that Thailand was used to circumvent U.S. tariff policies.
If tariffs are reinstated on those southeast Asian nations, future projects like the one in Augusta could come with a higher price tag.