Biden's 'Buy American' Clean Energy Conundrum

President's climate actions kill American jobs while boosting China, experts say

President Biden with climate czar John Kerry / Getty Images
February 1, 2021

President Joe Biden's latest climate-focused executive order promises a bustling clean energy sector backed by "good-paying union jobs." That sector's supply chain, however, is largely dominated by China.

Issued on Wednesday, Biden's order calls on the federal government to purchase union-built, American electric vehicles. But both Chevrolet and Nissan's top electric offerings fall well below the federal government's domestic "component test" to determine American-made status, and Ford's latest electric SUV, the Mustang Mach-E, will be built in China and Mexico. China also controls much of the world's lithium battery supply, including 77 percent of global cell capacity and 60 percent of global component manufacturing, a September BloombergNEF report shows.

Biden climate envoy John Kerry, meanwhile, suggested Wednesday that disgruntled oil and coal workers could simply find new jobs in the solar sector. The clean energy industry's reliance on foreign markets and companies extends to solar energy. China controls roughly 60 percent of the industry's total supply chain and manufactures 75 percent of the world's polysilicon—a raw material used to make solar cells—according to research firm Wood Mackenzie.

The White House did not return a request for comment.

China's grip on clean energy means that Biden's push for a green American economy will likely benefit the Communist nation, sparking national-security concerns among Republican lawmakers. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.), the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told the Washington Free Beacon that Biden's "radical" climate actions will "kill jobs and increase our reliance on China."

"The national-security implications here are incredibly concerning. These Green New Deal-style mandates will constrict America's energy independence—something all Americans fought hard to achieve over the last few years," McMorris Rodgers said.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) echoed the Washington Republican's sentiment, adding that Biden's energy policies "will advantage our adversaries and hurt American workers and the American taxpayer."

Nick Loris, a climate and economics expert at the Heritage Foundation, said that China has little interest in divorcing climate cooperation from the litany of political issues on which it disagrees with the United States. One-third of the polysilicon China produced in 2019, for example, came from the Xinjiang region, where more than a million Uighurs are being held in government-run camps. And the environmental benefits of clean energy are diminished when relying on components manufactured under China's lax emission regulations.

"It's very difficult if not impossible to decouple China's climate actions with everything else that China is doing," Loris said. "Their environmental and climate track records … just go to show how little they are interested in tackling environmental issues right now."

The United States became the world's leader in oil and natural-gas production under President Donald Trump, making America a net exporter of petroleum for the first time in decades. President Biden's hostility to the fossil-fuel industry, though, is expected to undermine America's energy independence as well as cut thousands of local jobs.

The Democrat's assertion that American fossil-fuel workers can seamlessly transition to clean-energy jobs is misguided, according to Heartland Institute president James Taylor. He argues that if American companies were encouraged to produce electric and solar equipment domestically, they would be forced either to lower wages in order to compete with China or "substantially raise" energy prices.

"These are all things that work at cross-purposes with the assertion that Biden's climate plan is going to boost the economy and create jobs," Taylor said.

Biden's Wednesday order was one of many on the environment issued just days into his presidency. It will also not likely be the last, as Biden has called climate change a "maximum threat" that requires an "ambitious" response. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), who praised Biden's order as a "strong opening push," recently called on the president to declare a national climate emergency and impose "many, many things under the emergency powers of the president … that he could do without legislation."