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Bipartisan measure to block solar tariff waiver heads to markup

Measure could hamper the administration's solar energy goals

Solar panels are being installed on the roof of a house in North Carolina.
Solar panels are being installed on the roof of a house in North Carolina. (Lindsey Nicholson/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The Ways and Means Committee is slated this week to vote on a bipartisan resolution to strike down a Biden administration rule to waive tariffs on solar energy equipment from four countries in Southeast Asia.

The committee will mark up the measure during a meeting that begins at 9 a.m. Wednesday. 

Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., is the primary sponsor of the resolution, which could limit the Biden administration’s efforts to ramp up electricity production from zero-emission sources. 

The resolution would nullify a Commerce Department rule to waive import tariffs on solar equipment materials, such as crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells, that are assembled in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand or Vietnam using parts from China.

Republicans in Congress, at times with support from Democrats, have had some success in using the Congressional Review Act to block Biden administration regulations. Posey’s resolution would also use that act, a tool Congress can use to nullify recent rules as well as proposed and interim rules from federal agencies.

Both chambers passed a resolution this Congress to eliminate a rule from the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to define the waters that fall under protection of the Clean Water Act.

While President Joe Biden vetoed that measure, and another about investment and the Labor Department, he signed in March a resolution to block Washington, D.C., from overhauling its criminal laws.

The solar dispute stems from a request that Auxin Solar, a solar-panel manufacturing firm in California, made in February 2022 to the Commerce Department to investigate if Chinese solar companies are evading U.S. tariffs by assembling their products in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand or Vietnam before shipping them to America.

The U.S. is reliant on foreign supplies for roughly 80 percent of its solar demand, according to the nonpartisan International Energy Agency.

Last June, Biden invoked emergency powers under a 1930 law to delay any new tariffs on solar parts from abroad, including from those four countries.

The Commerce Department investigation has split U.S. solar companies, with some saying it threatens to slow industry growth and Auxin maintaining Chinese firms are sidestepping tariffs and violating trade law.

Auxin’s petition called for duties as much as 250 percent on solar cells and modules.

Last year,  before the Commerce Department issued its regulation that Posey’s resolution would block, 19 Senate Democrats, GOP Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Jerry Moran of Kansas and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine wrote to Biden that the federal probe threatened the domestic solar industry and placed thousands of jobs tied to solar at risk.

The House resolution has five Republican and five Democratic sponsors, and it may find support in the Senate from two Democrats up for reelection, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.

In December, the Commerce Department issued a preliminary decision to reinstate tariffs in June 2024.

Citing the department’s investigation, Brown and Casey pressed Biden to place the tariffs he had waived back in effect.

“China’s trade cheating has driven many innovative manufacturers out of business because they cannot compete with the predatory prices offered by government-subsidized Chinese competitors,” Brown and Casey wrote.

The U.S. is but should not be reliant on China for its solar hardware, they said. “Robust trade enforcement must be a key piece of our strategy to support our climate goals, just as strong domestic investment in clean energy is.”

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