President Biden drew criticism Monday after invoking the Defense Production Act to potentially expedite the production of solar panels — with journalists and Republicans questioning the rationale for using special wartime powers.
Renewable energy advocates, meanwhile, cheered the White House announcement that Biden would invoke the act “to accelerate domestic production of clean energy technologies, including solar panel parts.”
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) tweeted, “Biden’s irresponsible & arguably constitutionally corrupt misuse of the Defense Production Act should concern every American. The DPA isn’t a get out of jail free card to cover for lazy & inept governance, which is exactly how this administration uses it.”
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) questioned Biden’s priorities, tweeting, “Can’t find baby formula for your newborn? Can’t afford to fill up your gas tank? Don’t worry, @POTUS will have new solar panels ready in no time…”
It’s unclear if the declaration will have any near-term effect and it also was unclear if the timing had anything to do with record-high gas and diesel prices. The White House release did not mention surging prices at the pump.
The Energy Department and the White House will gather “key stakeholders” to discuss future steps to “maximize the impact of the DPA tools,” the release said.
Fox Business reporter Edward Lawrence asked White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre about the rationale for invoking the DPA.
“What’s the real emergency in the solar industry for the Defense Production Act?” Lawrence asked at Jean-Pierre’s regular briefing.
“The president, when he takes the Defense Production Act, it’s to make sure that he’s delivering for the American people,” Jean-Pierre replied. “It is an important tool that he has used a couple of times and has been incredibly effective.”
Jean-Pierre added, “He is invoking the Defense Production Act to rapidly expand domestic production of solar panel parts, building insulation, heat pumps and more.”
She said Biden separately “is putting the full force of the federal government’s purchasing power behind supporting American clean energy manufacturers, and he is providing US solar employers the short term stability they need to build clean energy projects and deliver more affordable energy.”
In response to another reporter’s question, Jean-Pierre said that the DPA invocation would not benefit imported solar panels from China.
“These actions do not apply to any materials imported from China. Import duties will remain in place on solar cells and panels from China or Taiwan,” she said.
The Biden administration did not specify a national-defense reason for using the act to boost solar panels.
When Biden was vice president, the Obama administration aggressively pushed for solar energy production — sparking the Solyndra scandal when a politically-connected firm went bankrupt after getting $535 million in federal loan guarantees.
The Defense Production Act notably was used by the Trump administration to coerce businesses to make ventilators and test swabs early in the COVID-19 pandemic and more recently was invoked by Biden to possibly speed production of baby formula to ease shortages.
Many Democrats expressed approval for Biden’s latest action, which can influence corporate behavior merely through the threat of action.
“Three cheers to Biden for using the DPA to expand domestic manufacturing of solar panels,” tweeted Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who wrote the action could improve “American energy independence” while boosting US companies and workers.
“Great to see [Biden] invoke the DPA on behalf of clean energy today,” tweeted billionaire investor Tom Steyer, a renewable-energy promoter who ran against Biden for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. “This plan will jumpstart American manufacturing, accelerate solar innovation, and create good jobs. An important step forward.”