Democrats signal support for controversial federal solar panel probe
Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) signaled their support Thursday for a federal investigation into solar panel components condemned by many of their colleagues in both parties.
The Commerce Department investigation, announced in March, concerns allegations that panel parts manufactured in southeast Asian countries have been used as fronts for Chinese companies to avert antidumping and countervailing tariffs.
The Solar Energies Industry Association (SEIA) has said the investigation could devastate the U.S. solar industry, and allies in the Senate, led by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), have called on Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and President Biden to expedite the conclusion of the probe.
Brown and Casey pushed back against the SEIA characterization of the investigation in a letter Thursday, writing that “it is troubling that corporate lobbying against a simple investigation would reach this level of mass hysteria if there was not some concern over what career civil servants at [the Department of Commerce] may uncover.”
“It is unclear why millions of dollars would be spent on advertising and lobbying to urge political interference in the trade enforcement process,” they added. They noted that SEIA membership includes U.S. subsidiaries of a number of Chinese solar panel manufacturers, including JinkoSolar, JA Solar and Trina Solar.
SEIA vice president of public affairs Dan Whitten has sharply disputed the suggestion that Chinese firms exert influence on the trade group, telling The Hill earlier this month that “allegations of Chinese influence on SEIA are absurd and patently false.”
“Out of SEIA’s 60 board companies, all have U.S. operations. Like every board member, they have one vote,” he said.
While Brown and Casey did not identify their colleagues by name in the letter, they wrote that “regulators at DOC must be given sufficient time and resources to thoroughly investigate this petition – any request to end the investigation earlier than what is necessary for a thorough investigation is, in essence, a request for lax enforcement of U.S. trade remedy laws.”
Before the announcement of the investigation, Brown joined his fellow Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R) in urging the Commerce Department to act on the petition, brought by Auxin Solar, that would later spur the probe.
“A strong commitment to American manufacturing must be paired with proper trade enforcement so that investments in American production, workers, and innovation are not undermined by unfair trade practices,” they wrote in March. “That is why the Department of Commerce must fully and fairly examine these allegations of illegal and unfair circumvention of our trade remedy laws.”
— Updated at 5:55 p.m.