U.S. solar companies weigh challenge of Biden’s tariff break

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WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. solar makers said they are considering legal challenges after President Joe Biden declared a two-year pause on tariffs on solar imports from Southeast Asia.

Biden also invoked the Defense Production Act on Monday as the White House decided to restart solar installations that have been slowed or abandoned as part of a Commerce Department investigation into possible trade violations involving products. Chinese.

The White House said Biden’s actions would boost an industry crucial to its climate change goals without interfering with or ending Commerce’s investigation.

But some domestic producers, including a California company that filed a Commerce complaint alleging unfair competition from Chinese imports, said Biden’s actions would help state-subsidized Chinese solar companies at the expense of U.S. manufacturers.

“President Biden is significantly interfering with Commerce’s quasi-judicial process,” said Mamun Rashid, CEO of Auxin Solar, which filed the complaint with Commerce earlier this year.

“By taking this unprecedented – and potentially illegal – step (Biden) has opened the door for Chinese-funded special interests to thwart the fair application of US trade law,” Rashid said in a statement.

Auxin was not consulted prior to the White House announcement, Rashid said, nor did the White House contact other US producers. Auxin is currently “evaluating all of our legal options”, he said.

Timothy Brightbill, an attorney who represents domestic solar makers, said Tuesday that Biden was using the pretense of declaring a national emergency to deny an ongoing trade investigation.

“It’s unprecedented, it’s bad law, and it’s extremely bad, short-sighted policy because it only makes us more dependent on Chinese-owned solar companies,” Brightbill said. US industry argues that China has essentially moved its operations to four Southeast Asian countries – Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia – to circumvent strict anti-dumping rules that limit imports from China .

“The White House’s failure to consult with US solar panel companies before taking this unprecedented step is telling and embarrassing,” Brightbill said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Biden was responding to a legitimate emergency, “in this case, the threat to the availability of sufficient power generation capacity to meet expected customer demand.

Biden’s actions “will help ensure that we have the solar capacity additions needed to meet our electricity and generation needs,” she said, calling the actions “particularly urgent given the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on global energy supplies”, as well as the intensifying effects of climate change.

US solar installers and environmental groups applauded Biden’s action, saying it would restore certainty and boost solar installations that have stalled amid Commerce’s probe, which includes potentially steep penalties that could be imposed. retroactively.

Clean energy leaders have warned that the investigation – which could result in retroactive tariffs of up to 240% – would jeopardize up to 80% of the country’s planned solar projects and could result in thousands of layoffs.

Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said Biden’s actions would “protect existing solar jobs, lead to increased employment in the solar industry, and foster a manufacturing base.” solid solar power here at home”.

A Biden administration official, who asked not to be identified to discuss internal deliberations, said Biden’s decision was prompted by White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy and climate envoy John Kerry , as well as Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. Officials all feared Commerce’s investigation could undermine Biden’s goal of achieving 100% clean electricity by 2035. Solar power is a key part of that agenda.

At the same time, Biden did not want to interfere with or shut down Commerce’s investigation, the official said.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Biden’s action “ensures American families have access to reliable, clean electricity while ensuring we have the ability to hold our business partners accountable to their commitments.”

While Democrats mostly applauded the announcement, many Republicans called it a gift to China.

Biden’s announcement “equates to a two-year amnesty for the Chinese Communist Party for any violations of our trade laws relating to solar panel imports. This action will help China and hurt American solar panel makers and American workers,’ said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Some Democrats agreed.

“Although the United States leads the world in solar innovation, today 80% of the world’s solar panels are made in China – that has to change,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D- Ohio, whose state is home to the largest US solar. -panel manufacturer.

“We haven’t invested in building American capabilities the way we should, and we haven’t addressed China’s repeated cheating,” Brown said in a statement. “On all of these decisions, American solar manufacturers and their workers must be at the table.”

Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada, who pushed Commerce to conclude its investigation, called Biden’s announcement a positive step that will save American solar jobs, including thousands in her state.

“The risk of additional tariffs on imported solar panels would have been devastating to America’s solar projects, the hundreds of thousands of jobs they support, and our country’s clean energy and climate goals,” said she declared.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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