Trump hits solar imports with tariff but still concedes millions of jobs to China

White House policies will kill clean energy jobs in the near term and long term.

Solar panel installer in North Carolina. CREDIT: Logan Cyrus/Washington Post via Getty Images
Solar panel installer in North Carolina. CREDIT: Logan Cyrus/Washington Post via Getty Images

President Donald Trump decided to slap a 30 percent tariff on imported solar cells and panels, the White House announced Monday. The tariff comes after the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled last year that China had harmed the domestic solar manufacturing industry with policies aimed at taking over the global market.

While the administration claimed the president was acting to protect American jobs, the new tariff is only the latest in a series of efforts by the White House to slow the installation of renewable energy in this country in favor of fossil fuels — a strategy that kills jobs in both the near term and long term.

In the near term, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) says Trump’s decision may cost the fast-growing industry — which currently employees over 260,000 people, primarily in the installation business — some 23,000 jobs this year, and cause billions of dollars in solar investments to be canceled or delayed. Greentech Media tweeted that it expects “potential installations will be reduced by approx. 10% through 2022.”

In the long term, many millions of jobs are at risk from Trump administration’s long list of anti-clean energy policies. Ironically, in justifying this tariff, the White House Office of the U.S. Trade Representative asserted that “from 2012 to 2016, the volume of solar generation capacity installed annually in the United States more than tripled.” They attributed that to artificially low prices driven by “China’s industrial planning… a focus on increasing Chinese capacity and production of solar cells and modules, using state incentives, subsidies, and tariffs to dominate the global supply chain.”


So the White House is conceding that this is a very rapidly growing industry and that smart domestic policies can be used to achieve global leadership — at the very time the Administration is doing everything it can to undermine U.S. leadership in clean energy.

But if members of the Trump White House actually cared about the solar industry — if they wanted to seriously compete with China for the millions of jobs being created by this and other fast-growing renewable industries — they wouldn’t have embraced a series of policies aimed at harming the domestic industry.

Just one year into his presidency, Trump’s anti-renewable policies include: gutting the budget for clean energy, working to gut the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, and even trying to get federal regulators to raise consumer energy bills in order to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants.

The fact is that Trump’s new solar import tariff — which declines over time and disappears after four years — can’t revive the domestic solar manufacturing industry in this country. Prices are dropping way too fast here and abroad for a modest, short-term “fix” to help.

Restoring U.S. leadership in clean energy would instead require the same sweeping, long-term support for the industry that China and Germany and many other countries provide, exactly the kind of support the president reserves for fossil fuels.