Pushed by Progressives, Biden Invokes Defense Production Act to Boost Renewable Energy

“We hope this use of the Defense Production Act is a turning point for the president, who must use all his executive powers to confront the climate emergency head-on,” said Jean Su with the Center for Biological Diversity.

By Andrea Germanos  Published 6-6-2022 by Common Dreams

Photovoltaic solar panels mounted on roof in Berkeley, CA. Photo: Alfred Twu/Wikimedia Commons/CC

The White House announced on Monday executive actions to help “create a bridge” to a “clean energy future” including invoking the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of U.S.-made solar panels.

The actions, first reported by Reuters, come as the Build Back Better’s climate provisions remain stalled in the Senate and amid the threat of new tariffs the solar industry has blamed for dampening domestic projects.

“We hope this use of the Defense Production Act is a turning point for the president, who must use all his executive powers to confront the climate emergency head-on,” said Jean Su, director of the Energy Justice program at the Center for Biological Diversity.

In addition to climate groups and green energy advocates, progressive lawmakers have pushed President Joe Biden to leverage the DPA to increase renewable energy manufacturing in the U.S. to simultaneously address the climate crisis while reducing reliance on fossil fuels from authoritarian states.

Beyond tapping the DPA for renewable technology, Biden’s plan includes a two-year pause on “anti-dumping” tariffs imposed on solar panels and other key energy components from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia that could result from a Commerce Department investigation into whether Chinese companies are dodging penalties by moving operations to those Southeast Asian nations. China also stands accused of using Uyghur slave labor in its production of solar parts.

A fact sheet from the White House states that Biden will:

  • Authorize use of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to accelerate domestic production of clean energy technologies, including solar panel parts;
  • Put the full power of federal procurement to work spurring additional domestic solar manufacturing capacity by directing the development of master supply agreements, including “super preference” status; and
  • Create a 24-month bridge as domestic manufacturing rapidly scales up to ensure the reliable supply of components that U.S. solar deployers need to construct clean energy projects and an electric grid for the 21st century, while reinforcing the integrity of our trade laws and processes.

In addition to solar panel parts, the DPA will be used to expand production of other clean energy technologies including heat pumps and building insulation, according to the fact sheet.

As the Commerce Department continues the probe it launched in March, the president is also “temporarily facilitating U.S. solar deployers’ ability to source solar modules and cells from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam by providing that those components can be imported free of certain duties for 24 months in order to ensure the U.S. has access to a sufficient supply of solar modules to meet electricity generation needs while domestic manufacturing scales up.”

“Together, these actions will spur domestic manufacturing, construction projects, and good-paying jobs—all while cutting energy costs for families, strengthening our grid, and tackling climate change and environmental injustice,” the White House said. “With a stronger clean energy arsenal, the United States can be an even stronger partner to our allies, especially in the face of Putin’s war in Ukraine.”

Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association—which had sharply criticized the tariffs, welcomed the steps as a “thoughtful approach to addressing the current crisis of the paralyzed solar supply chain.”

“Today’s actions,” Hopper said in a statement, “protect existing solar jobs, will lead to increased employment in the solar industry, and foster a robust solar manufacturing base here at home.”

Anusha Narayanan, climate campaign director at Greenpeace USA, echoed Su in calling on Biden to “take [climate] action at the scale that science and justice demand.”

The administration’s announcement Monday, said Narayanan, “is what we need more of to address the climate crisis, create a better future for our communities, support domestic manufacturers, and aid our allies abroad by weakening the fossil-fueled war in Ukraine.”

The new plan, she added, “demonstrates President Biden’s ability to ramp up the transition to renewable energy.”

And the president should “go even further,” Narayanan said, “by invoking the Defense Production Act across all clean energy sectors, declaring a climate emergency, and addressing the root of the climate crisis by beginning an immediate and equitable phaseout of domestic fossil fuel production.”

Rewiring America CEO Ari Matusiak CEO also welcomed the administration’s announcement, calling it “directly in line with what Rewiring America called for in our Electrify for Peace Policy Plan.”

“We cannot have true energy independence in America as long as we are dependent on fossil fuels, as their volatility is driven by global markets and petrostate dictators we do not control,” said Matusiak.

“Electrification of the machines we depend on in our day-to-day lives, powered by clean electricity, is the only solution that delivers American families the energy security they deserve,” he said, “and gives us a shot at staying inside of 1.5°C warming.”

However, he stressed, further action by lawmakers is needed.

Matusiak called on Congress to “finish the job and move forward on passing a comprehensive suite of climate provisions through budget reconciliation. Rebates, tax credits, and low-cost financing to bring down the front-end cost of these efficient electric machines are all necessary and will empower American households to electrify their lives, saving money on their bills, creating local and family-sustaining jobs in their communities, and doing their part to combat climate change and the threats posed by dictators a world away.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).
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