Trump’s tariffs on the solar industry are anti-business, so why is he enforcing them?

It really says something when the one time Donald Trump has been pro-renewable is when he’s seen benefit in it for himself. Last year when he announced that the eponymous wall would be fixed with solar panels, we were struck by how temporarily pro-solar he’d become. Was his spiel about a solar panel wall just mere lip service? Was it the first of a handful of u-turns that would see him come crawling back to the Paris agreement? Obviously not. In the subsequent months, he has rolled back half a dozen of Obama’s climate change regulations, introduced tax reforms that restrict wind and solar energy, and signed off on the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

Trump’s tariffs on the solar industry are anti-business, so why is he enforcing them?

Now, President Trump has conducted the biggest attack on renewable energy in his presidency so far: he’s signed off on a bill that would slap tariffs of as much as up to 30% on imported solar panels.

In the US, solar energy is a massive $28 billion industry. Currently, 80% of the US’ solar equipment is imported from countries like China. By the end of 2016, there were 38,000 jobs in solar manufacturing, but only 2,000 of these jobs were in the production of cells and panels. The tariffs will mean that any solar equipment made abroad and imported into the country will have duty tariffs of up to 30%. The Trump administration argues that it will bring jobs back to the US, but will it really?

“The president’s action makes clear again that the Trump administration will always defend American workers, farmers, ranchers and business in this regard,” Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative, said in a statement on Monday.

However, for a man who always promotes himself as pro-business, this makes limited sense. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Trump’s decision is going to kill jobs – not make them, with 23,000 manufacturing jobs to be culled thanks to these tariffs, and the cancellation of billions of dollars in investment.

“While tariffs, in this case, will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet US demand or keep foreign-owned Suniva and SolarWorld afloat, they will create crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately costs tens of thousands of hard-working blue-collar Americans their jobs,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA President and CEO.

When you consider that the coal industry is hardly a booming sector, accounting for just 50,000 jobs in the whole of the US, and that there are 260,000 jobs in the solar industry, it does seem that Trump’s refusal to support the renewable industry is more down to inflexible dogma than reveling in his pro-business credentials.

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