Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm declined to rule out giving funding to companies with "material operations in China" on Wednesday after a lawmaker pressed her on the Department of Energy’s $200 million announced grant to a lithium battery company that operates primarily out of China.
Granholm’s testimony comes a week after she told another Senate committee that her department is still reviewing the pending grant to lithium battery company Microvast, which the department announced with great fanfare a few weeks before the midterm election last fall.
Lawmakers have criticized the grant, noting Microvast’s extensive business in China. While the company’s registered headquarters is in Texas, it disclosed in its financial report last year that it operates primarily in China and that the Chinese government "exerts substantial influence over the manner in which we must conduct our business activities."
Granholm told Sen. Eric Schmitt (R., Mo.) on Wednesday that "no state-owned enterprise" in China would receive funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
"What about companies that have material operations in China?" Schmitt asked.
Granholm declined to answer directly, saying the DOE is "using this [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] vetting program to be able to identify exactly where the control is of a particular technology … and we want to make sure that we are the beneficiaries of those acts and not others."
The exchange came after Schmitt pressed Granholm on the proposed grant to Microvast, which was intended to fund a battery separator facility in Tennessee. He told Granholm that the grant was "concerning."
Although the DOE framed that grant and others as a done deal in an announcement last October—even releasing statements from elected officials praising the funding—Granholm said the awards are still "going through vetting process to ensure that there is no money flowing to countries of concern."
"Those vetting processes are going on, not a dollar has gone out the door yet," she told Schmitt.
The DOE has defended the proposed grant, saying that Microvast is an American company headquartered in Texas.