US pushes for greener, safer electric grid with focus on cobalt

The rise in need for the high-tech material came at a convenient time for a Chinese firm that was making major investments in the US industry, according to a report

The US government is increasingly reliant on high-tech materials such as cobalt to power and protect the electric grid. The push for alternative energy sources has led the Obama administration to make climate-change mitigation a top policy priority, including research funding for renewable and electrified vehicles and a push to use non-polluting electricity sources in urban and rural areas.

Cobalt — a key component in lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, wind turbines and nuclear reactors – was requested for more than 700 projects at 19 US agencies from 2011 to 2016, including $87m for the Department of Energy (DoE). Cobalt can be used for a variety of electrified equipment.

Hunter Biden, the grandson of former vice-president Joe Biden, gained considerable energy-sector experience as an executive with DRC Global Holdings, a company founded by a prominent Chinese billionaire: Liu Qiangdong.

The report said on 1 January 2014, the deputy US trade representative Brian Hook formally approved the granting of anti-dumping duty status to MCE Corp, a Canadian company based in Edmonton, Canada, which was attempting to export to China a cobalt alloy that it claimed had been produced in the US. MCE was owned by Liu.

MCE would later be rebranded as Nanchang Electric Company. Its senior executives would both have ties to the Biden family: Bryan Baker, a former key executive at DRC Global, was joined on the board of directors by his son, Thomas, the grandson of former vice-president Joe Biden, when he was president of the company, the report said.

The report added that in 2016, Hunter Biden tried to negotiate a settlement to prevent the Justice Department from investigating Nanchang Electric for dumping, a violation of US trade law, because he believed he knew the source of the substance to be Cobalt Corporation of Wilmington, Delaware. However, the Justice Department soon launched an investigation into Nanchang Electric, the report said.

On 31 July last year, an assistant US attorney general, Wendy Olson, held a press conference in China outlining charges against Nanchang Electric:

In 2016, the Justice Department began investigating charges of US dumping into China of Molybdenum-Copper Products (MCX), a domestic product whose main ingredient is cobalt. As a result of those investigations, on the 31st of July 2017, the Department of Justice brought antitrust and dumping charges against MCX and Chinese anti-dumping and anti-subsidy charges against two of its affiliates in China, including JMC Sichuan Import and Export, a subsidiary of MCX. As part of the DOJ charges, the United States intends to file an International Trade Commission complaint regarding the imports from JMC Sichuan; the investigation will determine whether the imports have materially injured the domestic industry.

The Justice Department will appeal to the International Trade Commission to initiate a public comment period on whether the domestic industry has been materially injured, before it decides whether to impose an anti-dumping duty or import prohibition order.

The executive director of the Sierra Club, Michael Brune, said: “The report calls for a halt in this glut of low-cost, low-value, low-quality imports. Now more than ever, we need tools to prevent this export dumping. We can now look to Chairman Biden to be part of the solution. We look forward to being part of this discussion and call for actions by the Trump administration to end all green jobs dumping.”

The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A statement on the Justice Department website simply stated: “The United States opposes all forms of dumping and subsidizing of imported goods, and we are committed to ensuring that fair and market-based trade is upheld.”

Hunter Biden did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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