WASHINGTON — The House voted Friday to reinstate tariffs on solar panel imports from several Southeast Asian countries after President Joe Biden paused them in a bid to boost solar panel installations in the U.S., a key part of his climate agenda.
The 221-202 vote sends the measure to the Senate, where lawmakers from both parties have expressed similar concerns about what many call unfair competition from China. Biden has vowed to veto the measure if it reaches his desk.
The House vote would overturn Biden’s action last year pausing threatened tariffs that had led to delays or cancellations of hundreds of solar projects across the United States.
Some U.S. manufacturers contend that China has essentially moved operations to four Southeast Asian countries — Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia — to skirt strict anti-dumping rules that limit imports from China.
A Commerce Department inquiry last year found likely trade violations involving Chinese products. Biden halted the tariffs for two years before the Commerce investigation was completed, saying he was responding to an emergency that threatened the availability of electric power to meet demands from U.S. homes and businesses.
Before Biden acted, the threat of tariffs from the Commerce Department inquiry had led to delays or cancellations of hundreds of solar projects in the U.S. as investors moved to protect themselves against potential penalties as high as $1 billion that could be imposed retroactively.
The U.S. industry argues that imports of solar panels are needed as solar installations ramp up to meet increased demand for renewable energy. Solar power is a key part of Biden’s goal to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035.
Rep. Jason Smith, R-Missouri, said Friday that restoring the tariffs would hold China accountable while protecting U.S. jobs and workers. Tariffs would protect American manufacturers who are facing unfair competition from China, which is subsidizing its products and selling them at low prices, Smith said.
“These trade abuses are well-known to all of us in this chamber,” said Smith, chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
“By shipping its products through Cambodia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, (Chinese officials) have set up a scheme that cheats American workers and consumers,” Smith said. “We know there’s wrongdoing going on. We know China is cheating, and that’s precisely why members of both parties were stunned and disappointed when the White House made the misguided decision” to halt the tariffs for two years.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said the House action would “punish U.S. workers” and the solar industry “and set us back on our climate goals.”
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., said the two-year pause was “not a perfect solution,” but offered “a short-term bridge” as the U.S. solar industry moves to produce more solar panels at home.
The White House said Biden’s action boosted an industry crucial to his climate change-fighting goals while not interfering with or shutting down the Commerce investigation.