The Solar Industry Pays Lip Service to American Workers—and Uses Chinese Slave Labor | Opinion

As President Biden sat down with European and world leaders this week to declare "America is Back," combatting global climate change was top of the agenda. At the G7 summit, world leaders laid out a vision for a net zero world, where virtually all greenhouse gases are removed from the atmosphere. They called for a green approach to everything, from the economic recovery to the pandemic to the way new infrastructure is built.

While we are all supportive of efforts to combat climate change, I applaud President Biden for highlighting the double standards of some U.S. clean energy groups. "There is simply no reason why the blades for wind turbines can't be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing," the President said in April.

Having proudly represented the area around Steel City in the U.S. Congress, I agree with President Biden. America cannot rely on foreign imports of raw materials for the wind and solar industries, while American steelworkers and their families across our country, feel the pain. If we want to Build Back Better and combat climate change, let's use Made in America raw materials to make solar panels and wind turbines.

This just isn't happening right now. Across the United States, total wind power instillations have increased, yet many of the steel towers that support those turbines are purchased from foreign suppliers; meanwhile, U.S. facilities sat idle. Instead of seeing increased production, sales, and profits at a time of increasing demand, U.S. tower producers have struggled to keep their facilities running, which hurts American workers and their families. And yet, over the same time period, the wind turbine industry has quadrupled over the last decade.

wind turbines
Workers sand a wind turbine inside the the Gamesa Wind Corporation factory in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images

The increasing use of imported steel towers is not only undercutting American workers; it undermines the very purpose of installing clean wind energy. Consider that the steel plates foreign producers use in the production of the massive wind towers we see across the country are typically made in China, which uses blast furnaces, dumping a massive amount of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere.

Not only is steel produced in the United States much greener with a smaller carbon foot-print due to the increased use of electric arc furnaces, but the energy used to produce it is also much greener. In China, the vast majority of industrial electricity is coal based and bad for the environment.

We must hold the wind industry accountable for their double standards.

Right now, the biggest offenders are Malaysia, India, and Spain. In fact, the U.S. International Trade Commission has launched a massive investigation into these foreign wind towers to determine the impact these bad actors are having on the U.S. wind tower industry. We cannot be encouraging the use of imported wind towers if we want to create U.S. energy infrastructure that is good for American workers and the environment.

But this issue of the use of foreign imports does not just exist within the wind industry. Recent investigations have tied U.S. solar panel production in China to forced labor, where workers are subject to torture, sexual assault, and human rights violations. The solar industry presents itself as supporters of American manufacturing workers, while in reality, they are heavily reliant on forced labor from Communist China for their polycrystalline silicon.

Almost one-third of the world's polysilicon, the essential material in solar panel production, comes from companies that rely on forced labor in China's Xinjiang province. As the New York Times reported, the dirty little secret of the U.S. solar industry is that it relies heavily on polysilicon from Uighur forced labor camps in China. And it's not like this is a secret: Senators Jeff Merkley and Marco Rubio introduced the "Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act" to ban the importation of goods from Xinjiang for this very reason.

Even more troubling, the solar industry is building their solar field developments with large amounts of foreign aluminum and steel components. The U.S. solar industry is standing with forced labor in China and not U.S. labor groups such as the United Steelworkers (USW) and manufacturing workers in Pennsylvania and across our great nation.

We should utilize the steel and aluminum production capabilities we have here in the United States, rather than relying on foreign imports. States like Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas, and Illinois all have wind tower factories that consume American-made steel in their wind tower production, all while providing and supporting good-paying manufacturing jobs for American workers.

We will not achieve President Biden's vision of rebuilding our middle class, unless we rebuild American manufacturing. If we truly want to Build Back Better, all U.S. wind turbines and solar panels must be constructed with Made in America components that will allow us to create more high wage family sustaining American manufacturing across our great nation.

Democratic Rep. Ron Klink served four consecutive terms representing American steel workers in Pennsylvania's 4th Congressional District.

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