Lawmakers investigate whether taxpayer funds were used to buy Chinese solar panels made with slave labor

(The Center Square) – Congressional Republicans want to know if the federal government is purchasing solar panels from China that were built using slave labor.

Lawmakers sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General raising the alarm about the issue, which has come increasingly into the spotlight as the Biden administration pushes the U.S. toward renewable energy sources, a market that China dominates.

U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, and other Republicans on the House Oversight Committee raised questions about China’s notorious human rights violations and why U.S. taxpayers would support unethical practices and enrich one of the U.S.’ greatest rivals.

“If we are not vigilant in our efforts to ensure that no solar panels or components made with slave labor are being purchased with federal dollars from FEMA or other U.S. agencies and used on similar solar projects, it is possible the United States could be directly funding the genocide and abuse occurring in China’s Xinjiang region,” the letter said.

The letter, addressed to IG Joseph Cuffari, says that almost 85% of the world’s solar components are made in China. For example, 40% of polysilicon, a necessary solar panel component, comes from the Xinjiang region, which is known for its enslavement of Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim group that has been forced into internment camps in China.

“As members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, we are writing today to express serious concern about the possibility of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funds being used to enrich China, an adversary with a record of human rights abuses and slave labor,” the letter said. “According to the U.S. Department of State, genocide and slave labor in the Xinjiang region of China are being actively perpetrated against the Uyghur minority.”

The lawmakers pointed to recently passed legislation to prevent these kinds of purchases.

“As you know, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) was signed into law in December 2021 to prevent the U.S. purchase or importation of goods made with forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China,” the letter said. “We strongly support the UFLPA but remain troubled the United States may still possibly be using taxpayer dollars to purchase products manufactured using slave labor in direct violation of the UFLPA…”

The lawmaker’s letter directly asks the IG to investigate. They also point to federal funds spent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on power grids.

“Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, the federal government committed nearly $8 billion to assist with disaster relief in the [U.S. Virgin Islands], with almost $5 billion of those dollars coming from FEMA,” the letter said. “A large sum of the disaster relief funds was allocated to bolster and rebuild the USVI’s energy grid, making it more reliable and resistant to future storms. Additionally, the USVI announced in 2021 that a new 28-megawatt solar micro-grid project on St. Croix was awarded $4.4 million from FEMA for the initial phase of construction while USVI officials expect FEMA to fund the bulk of the remaining $129 million project cost.”

The federal government increasingly using taxpayer dollars to fund solar panel research and production in the name of fending off climate change, but that investment has come with geopolitical implications.

Now, Republicans want to know if that federal spending came at an even bigger cost.

“This territory-wide transition to solar power will potentially serve to massively enrich China,” the letter said.

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