Lawmakers escalate push for new solar import tariffs

By Nico Portuondo | 06/06/2024 06:48 AM EDT

A solar tariff moratorium is set to expire Thursday. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want more.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is asking President Joe Biden to do more against Chinese solar imports. Alex Brandon/AP

A bipartisan coalition on Capitol Hill is pressing President Joe Biden to do more against unfair Chinese solar trade practices as a yearslong tariff moratorium expires Thursday.

Two letters — one signed by moderate Democrats in the Senate and House and the other authored by House Republicans — ask Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and U.S. International Trade Commission Chair David Johanson to support a new petition designed to counteract Chinese solar panel manufacturing in four Southeast Asian countries.

“China’s cheating unaddressed puts thousands of American solar jobs and the domestic solar industry in jeopardy,” lawmakers wrote in the letter led by Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Marcy Kaptur.


The Republicans, led by Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.), said in their own missive that, “Despite significant investment, robust demand, and a growing workforce, American workers cannot compete when the deck is stacked against them so severely.”

The issue has split Democrats and pitted solar installers against companies that make components in states like Ohio.

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) has argued that imposing additional tariffs would hurt efforts to increase solar energy production and meet climate goals.

“We’ve got a growing solar industry, not only in Arizona, but across this country,” Kelly said this year. “We can’t put ourselves in a situation that results in projects being shut down because they don’t have access to [solar panel] parts.”

In 2022, the Biden administration — at the urging of solar installers and their allies on the Hill — put a two-year hold on tariffs for Chinese manufacturers who skirted duties by routing panels through Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

In April, a new coalition of seven leading U.S. solar manufacturers filed a petition with the Commerce Department requesting new tariffs on imports from four Southeast Asian nations.

The group alleged that some Chinese companies had moved their heavily subsidized solar operations to skirt the penalties set to take effect this week.

“With more than 40 GW of new wafer capacity built in Southeast Asia in recent years to avoid the circumvention ruling, we expect the end of this moratorium to have a relatively small impact on leveling the playing field for our domestic industry,” said Tim Brightbill, lead counsel for the American Alliance for Solar Manufacturing Trade Committee.

A joint statement from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the American Clean Power Association (ACP), Advanced Energy United (United) and American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) said the new petition could create market volatility for new solar installations.

Along with Brown and Kaptur, several of the signatories of the Democratic letter are lawmakers facing tight reelections, including Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

The Biden administration did levy new tariffs on Chinese solar panel parts and electric vehicles in May, but those would not affect the Chinese-controlled solar production in Southeast Asia.

The International Trade Commission (ITC) will vote on their preliminary determination in the new tariff investigation on Friday.