Sale of stimulus-backed energy firm approved despite GOP concerns

Chinese firm Wanxiang America has been given the go-ahead to buy a U.S. clean-energy firm despite Republican concerns that the sale could harm national security, the company announced Tuesday.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) approved Wanxiang America’s purchase of A123 Systems’ automotive, energy storage and commercial operations for $256.6 million.

“The future is bright for A123. It is a company with exceptional talent and potential, and Wanxiang America is committed to its long-term success and the continuance of its U.S. operations,” Pin Ni, president of Wanxiang America, said in a statement.

CFIUS, an interagency panel led by the Treasury Department, has the power to negate deals with foreign firms if they harm national security. Some GOP lawmakers worried that was the case with the bid for Waltham, Mass.-based A123, and they lobbied CFIUS to block the transaction.

ADVERTISEMENT
Specifically, the lawmakers feared transferring technology secrets from A123’s military contracts to Elgin, Ill.-based Wanxiang America. While the Chinese firm did not acquire A123’s military operations, the Republican legislators said separating such intellectual property from A123’s commercial work might be impossible.

"[T]his is a clear cut example of a time when President Obama needs to step in and protect our national security interests," Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who serves as vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Hill in a Tuesday statement.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said they have called for a full briefing from CFIUS. 

“We don’t have any answers on whether U.S. national security concerns are protected. The only thing that’s clear is a foreign-owned company will benefit from the millions of dollars given to A123 through the President’s stimulus package. That’s troubling,” Grassley said in a Tuesday statement.

A123 filed for bankruptcy in October.

The firm had collected $132 million of a $249 million Energy Department stimulus grant, which helped build a Livonia, Mich., battery factory included in the Wanxiang America deal. Wanxiang America will not receive the rest of the grant.

— This story was last updated at 1:27 p.m.