updated 10/15/2010 2:03:52 PM ET 2010-10-15T18:03:52

The Obama administration has launched an investigation into various Chinese trade practices that a major U.S. union says keep American workers from landing high-paying green jobs.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced Friday that the government would look into the allegations by the United Steelworkers union.

The union filed a 5,800-page petition last month claiming that Chinese businesses are able to sell wind and solar equipment at a cheaper price on the international market because they received subsidies from the Chinese government. The Steelworkers union said the subsidies create unfair advantages over U.S. firms and are prohibited under global trade rules.

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Under U.S. law, the administration now has 90 days to examine the allegations and decide whether to bring a case against China before the World Trade Organization, the Geneva-based organization that enforces trade rules.

"For those allegations that are supported by sufficient evidence ... we will vigorously pursue the enforcement of our rights through WTO litigation," Kirk said.

Kirk said the whole area of green technology is vitally important to America's future economic prospects.

"We take the USW's claims very seriously and we are vigorously investigating them," Kirk said in a statement. "Green technology will be an engine for the jobs of the future and this administration is committed to ensuring a level paying field for American workers."

If the U.S. won a case on the issue before the WTO, the Obama administration would be given the go-ahead to impose penalty tariffs on Chinese products if Beijing refused to halt the practices.

The Steelworkers union timed their request so that the administration would have to decide whether to take the case in the weeks right before the Nov. 2 congressional elections.

The weak U.S. economy and high unemployment are top issues in many congressional races and Republicans are hoping to score big gains in Congress because of voters' unhappiness.

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