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With defectors on both sides, House passes solar tariff measure

Twelve Democrats voted for the joint resolution, eight Republicans joined the majority of Democrats to vote against it

A solar energy farm near Fort Stockton, Texas.
A solar energy farm near Fort Stockton, Texas. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A measure that would retroactively reinstate a tariff on solar panels made with Chinese parts in Southeast Asia was passed Friday by the House, 221-202, which is short of the support needed to overcome a promised veto by President Joe Biden.

The joint resolution would nullify a Commerce Department rule that grants import tariff waivers to solar materials coming from China, through four Southeast Asian nations and ultimately to the U.S. China is the world’s largest maker of solar energy technology and the U.S. is dependent on imports to sustain its solar industry.

“The United States can and should focus its resources into developing our own solar products and boosting American competitiveness around the world rather than supporting China’s quest to dominate the market and control energy supply,” Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., the sponsor, said before passage Friday.

Twelve Democrats voted for the joint resolution, while eight Republicans joined the majority of Democrats to vote against it.

The measure has drawn support from Democrats who want the U.S. to draw a more hawkish trade stance against China and opposition from Democrats in sun-baked states where solar power is on the rise.

Commerce found in a preliminary investigation, issued in December, that Chinese solar manufacturers regularly skirt U.S. trade law by arranging light assembly of their goods in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Last year, the Biden administration lifted import tariffs on solar products coming from those countries, saying it would buy time for the U.S. to assemble a more robust domestic solar industry.

Retroactive

A staffer told members of the Ways and Means Committee, where the joint resolution originated, the tariff would be applied retroactively on solar equipment already operating in the U.S.

“We need to deploy everything we can to make sure we address the issue of climate change,” Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., said Friday before the vote. “In the short run, our domestic industry can’t increase production fast enough to meet our demand or meet our climate goals.”

Rep. Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala., voted for the measure. Sewell said she would like to see her district and Alabama be “more assertive in actually getting with the program when it comes to saving the environment.”

She added, in an interview before the vote, “decreasing dependency on China is definitely an advantage of voting in favor of this.”

The joint resolution was drafted under the Congressional Review Act, a 1996 law that lets Congress erase federal agency actions with simple majority votes in the House and Senate.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said in an interview solar executives told her the measure would kill specific jobs in her state.

“They’re concerned that this would just literally stop those projects from moving forward,” Cortez Masto said, adding of the measure: “[It would] stop jobs, stop projects, stop the creation of jobs in my state.”

The Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.

“Gotta get the jobs here,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told reporters. He said he would vote for the joint resolution. “The best way to promote manufacturing is every day, show up and push manufacturing.”

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