To boost US solar power, Biden is taking emergency action

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Monday ordered emergency measures to boost supplies for crucial U.S. solar manufacturers and declared a two-year tariff exemption on Southeast Asian solar panels as he was trying to reinvigorate progress toward its climate change goals.

His invocation of the Defense Production Act and other executive actions come amid complaints from industry groups that the solar sector is being slowed by supply chain issues due to a Commerce Department investigation into d possible trade violations involving Chinese products. News of the White House actions sent solar companies gaining traction on Wall Street.

The Commerce Department announced in March that it was reviewing imports of solar panels from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia, over concerns that products from those countries could circumvent U.S. anti-dumping rules that limit imports from from China.

Asked at the White House if Biden’s tariff break was not a gift to China, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said he was invoking the Defense Production Act, “to ensure that he delivers on his promises to the American people.”

“He’s putting the full force of the federal government to support America’s clean energy producers,” Jean-Pierre said.

White House officials said Biden’s actions were aimed at increasing domestic production of solar panel parts, building installation materials, high-efficiency heat pumps and other components, including cells. used for fuels generated by clean energy. They called the tariff suspension affecting imports from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia a bridging measure while other efforts increase domestic solar power production – even as the administration remains supportive of trade laws US and Commerce Department investigation.

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Commerce Department Secretary Gina Raimondo told a Senate panel in May that the solar investigation follows a process established by law that does not allow for consideration of climate change, supply chains, or environmental factors. other factors. She said Monday that she remains “committed to upholding our trade laws and ensuring that American workers have a chance to compete on a level playing field.”

“The President’s emergency declaration ensures American families have access to reliable, clean electricity while ensuring that we have the ability to hold our business partners accountable to their commitments,” Raimondo said in a statement.

Clean energy leaders have long warned that the investigation – which could result in retroactive tariffs of up to 240% – would severely hamper the US solar industry, leading to thousands of layoffs and jeopardizing up to 80 % of planned solar projects in the country.

The department counters that rates above 200% for solar products would not apply to the vast majority of imports. Instead, they generally apply to non-cooperative businesses that cannot differentiate themselves from the Chinese government or the Communist Party.

Still, any eventual sanction could have jeopardized one of Biden’s key clean energy goals and thwarted his administration’s push for renewable energy such as wind and solar power, supporters say.

“The President’s announcement will rejuvenate domestic solar energy construction and manufacturing by restoring the predictability and business certainty that the Department of Commerce’s flawed investigation disrupted,” said Heather Zichal, CEO of American Clean. Power Association and former Obama administration official. statement on Monday.

Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, applauded Biden’s “thoughtful approach to addressing the current crippled solar supply chain crisis.”

“Today’s actions protect existing solar jobs, will lead to increased employment in the solar industry, and foster a strong solar manufacturing base here at home,” Ross Hopper said in a statement.

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But not everyone in the industry was supportive. First Solar Inc., a major solar panel maker, said the tariff freeze would grant “unimpeded access to state-subsidized Chinese solar companies for the next two years” and that the use of the Defense production is “an inefficient use of taxpayers’ money and falls far short of a sustainable solar industrial policy.

“The administration can’t stick a band-aid on the issue and hope it goes away,” Samantha Sloan, vice president of corporate policy, said in a statement.

The appeal for executive action comes as the Biden administration’s clean energy tax cuts and other major proposals to encourage domestic green energy production stall in Congress. .

The Defense Production Act allows the federal government to direct manufacturing production for national defense and has become a more common tool used by presidents in recent years. The Trump administration used it to produce medical equipment and supplies during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden invoked his authority in April to increase production of lithium and other minerals used to power electric vehicles. Last month, he used it again to prioritize boosting the country’s supply of infant formula amid a national shortage caused by the safety closure of the country’s largest factory. country infant formula.

Jean Su, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s energy justice program, said in a statement that Biden’s announcement can “give critical momentum to the needed transition to solar power.”

“We hope this use of the Defense Production Act will be a turning point for the president, who must use all of his executive powers to confront the climate emergency head-on,” Su said.

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