In Pandering to the Green Left, Biden Is Underwriting China's Genocide of Uyghurs | Opinion

Last June, the Biden administration was so concerned about China's use of Uyghur Muslim slave labor to produce the polysilicon needed for solar panels that it imposed bans on imports of that product from some Chinese manufacturers.

But that was last year, before the domestic solar industry went into free fall due to a Commerce Department investigation into allegations of dumping that effectively halted the import of solar panels from four southeast Asia countries that were accused of circumventing tariffs on goods made in China.

On Monday, President Joe Biden reversed course and declared a two-year tariff exemption on solar panels from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. In doing so, Biden effectively neutered the restrictions that were imposed just 12 months ago.

Biden's move is a gift to China. It's also a signal that his administration is more interested in pandering to the renewable-energy lobby group than it is in taking a courageous stand on human rights or defending existing nuclear plants.

The president made the move by declaring that the solar situation is an emergency. "Immediate action is needed to ensure in the interim that the United States has access to a sufficient supply of solar modules to assist in meeting our electricity generation needs," wrote the White House in a June 6 statement. Biden went on to "declare an emergency to exist with respect to the threats to the availability of sufficient electricity generation capacity to meet expected customer demand."

Missing from that declaration is any mention of China, Xinjiang, Uyghurs, or last year's import restrictions.

This is remarkable because last July, the departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security, Labor, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative issued an extraordinary document called "Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory," which found that the Chinese government "continues to carry out genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang."

The report noted that China "dominates global solar supply chains and mounting evidence indicates that solar products and inputs at nearly every step of the production process, from raw silicon material mining to final solar module assembly, are linked to known or probably forced labor programs." It also found that Chinese solar companies controlled 70 percent of the global supply for solar-grade polysilicon, 45 percent of which was manufactured in Xinjiang.

Xinjiang
HAMI, CHINA - AUGUST 22: (CHINA OUT) Construction workers install solar panels at Hami Solar Power Station on August 22, 2011 in Hami, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. The 20MW Hami Solar Power Station, with total area of 830,000 square meters and total investment of 326 million RMB (about 51 million USD), is the first solar power station in Xinjiang. It will be put into operation in 2012. VCG/VCG via Getty Images

In a separate report issued last June, the State Department found that in Xinjiang, Chinese authorities "use threats of physical violence, forcible drug intake, physical and sexual abuse, and torture to force detainees to work in adjacent or off-site factories or worksites producing garments, footwear, carpets, yarn, food products, holiday decorations, building materials, extractives, materials for solar power equipment and other renewable energy components."

Let's be clear about what the Biden administration is claiming here with its new emergency act: The solar sector is so important that it requires us to ignore China's genocide against the Uyghurs, along with the industry's near-total reliance on Chinese suppliers for the critical commodities needed to produce solar panels.

It doesn't have to be this way. In another outrageous facet of this story, the Biden administration's gift to China and the solar sector was announced just a few days after the senseless closure of the Palisades Power Plant in Michigan. That 811-megawatt nuclear plant was prematurely shuttered on May 20, the very same day the North American Electric Reliability Corporation issued a report which said the U.S. electric grid doesn't have enough generation capacity and that blackouts are almost certain to occur across the country this summer. The Midwest in particular is facing a capacity shortfall that will lead to a "high risk of energy emergencies during peak summer conditions."

Palisades is located in the heart of the Midwest and is immediately adjacent to the area served by the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, the region that NERC identified as having 3,200 megawatts less generation capacity this summer than it did in 2021.

In April, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wrote to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm seeking federal help and money to keep the plant open. But since the plant closed, neither Whitmer nor anyone from the Biden administration has said a word about trying to rescue Palisades from the wrecking crew.

It's nothing short of a scandal.

Since the 1973 oil embargo, U.S. politicians have decried America's dependence on foreign oil. Now, in the name of climate change and the much-hyped "energy transition," the Biden administration is purposely ignoring the solar industry's near-total reliance on foreign supplies. More particularly, it is ignoring the industry's reliance on China and the U.S. government's own conclusions about slave labor and genocide.

While Biden, his top climate advisors, and numerous activists continue to warn us about the dangers of climate change, they did nothing to stop the closure of a critically important source of zero-carbon electricity in the heart of a region that is desperately short of electricity today.

In short, the Biden administration is doing nothing to save our nuclear plants while trying to make our grid more reliant on weather-dependent solar panels. In doing so, it is giving a leg up to China's genocidal regime. It doesn't get much more cynical than that.

Robert Bryce is the host of the Power Hungry Podcast, executive producer of the documentary, Juice: How Electricity Explains the World, and the author of six books, including most recently, A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations. Follow him on Twitter: @pwrhungry.

The views in this article are the writer's own.