Jan 18, 2023 - Energy & Environment

"Solyndra" search impacts GOP districts

Illustration of a magnifying glass inspecting a briefcase that looks like the Chinese flag.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

This story originally appeared in a special pre-launch edition of Axios Pro Energy Policy. For more scoops and sharp analysis like this, sign up to join the waitlist.

House Republicans' search for a bad Biden climate investment could blow up in their faces — because it may be about to hit firms in their own districts.

Why it matters: Republicans are scouring for a Solyndra-level energy money mishap with a national security lens, seeking to expose risks from funding firms tied to China — but some of the firms on their potential target list are bringing jobs and money to red districts.

Driving the news: House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Frank Lucas sent a letter in December to the Energy Department asking why it's funding Microvast — a Texas-based company with Chinese and U.S. operations now building a manufacturing plant in Tennessee. 

  • Microvast's plant is in Clarksville, Tenn., a city represented by Freedom Caucus member Mark Green, who celebrated the project's announcement. 
  • DOE told Axios its funding decisions follow "a rigorous merit review process" intended to "position the nation to out-compete on the global stage."
  • Microvast said in a statement that it’s "an American company" that is trying to combat the country's "reliance on Chinese manufacturers."
  • Green's office declined to comment on Microvast, but said the congressman "has been deeply concerned by the Chinese Communist Party's influence in American manufacturing companies."

Zoom in: The letter asked about funding to 19 other companies, including some with minor ties to China that also benefit GOP strongholds.

  • Take Group14 Technologies, which is building its second factory in Moses Lake, Wash., a town repped by Congressional Western Caucus chair Dan Newhouse. 
  • One Group14 investor is ATL, a Japanese-owned company headquartered in Hong Kong in ventures with China battery giant CATL. Group14 says ATL is a minor investor with no board seat.
  • There's also Talon Metals. That company is developing a nickel mine in Pete Stauber's Minnesota district and a refinery in North Dakota — an at-large district that's represented by Kelly Armstrong.
  • Talon's project partner is Rio Tinto, a mega-miner that's roughly 14% owned by a China-backed company and whose iron ore business is intertwined with China. A majority of its shares are held in the U.S., U.K. and Australia.
  • "This illustrates just how important it is — and how difficult it will be — to extract China completely from critical mineral supply chains," said Abby Wulf, a mineral security expert with D.C. nonprofit SAFE. 

What they're saying: Companies cited in the letter, including Talon and others, told Axios they're open to briefing the committee on their operations. 

  • A Western Caucus spokeswoman said Newhouse was "not familiar with Group14, and has not met with or spoken to them." She said a local news story describing him praising Group14 was inaccurate. 
  • A Stauber spokesman said "oversight of any funds from DOE this Congress is necessary" and he wants to "make sure those funds flow to projects like Talon."
Go deeper