By Kellen Bulger
Last week, President Trump imposed a tariff on foreign imported solar panels and washing machines. This move was in part to keep good on his platform surrounding the support of American businesses. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer touched on the president’s economic focus in a statement released shortly following the decision.
“The President’s action makes clear again that the Trump administration will always defend American workers, farmers, ranchers and business in this regard.”
While on its surface, the president’s decision may seem to be yet another attack on anything and everything related to climate change mitigation, upon further analysis Trump is nowhere near alone in having the executive office issue tariffs on foreign produced technologies.
One of the major motivations behind this tariff and many that have come from the White House over the past decade is to strongarm China through a variety of trade impositions, like this one announced on Monday — being that China currently dominates the global solar panel market. Notably, President Obama imposed a tariff on Chinese-made tires during his first-year in office. While the decision coming from this administration last week may not be wildly deviating from traditional American foreign policy, it may not be the type of foreign policy that Trump wants to emulate when we look at the outcomes of tariffs imposed on China in the past.
When Obama’s tariff took effect in 2009, not only did China respond with one of its own on U.S. imported poultry, but the tire tariff ended up costing the U.S. consumer over $1 billion. While it is too early to assess what China’s response will be, domestic solar panel manufacturers are not hopeful. President of Solar Energy Industries Association said that the decision from the White House last week “effectively will cause the loss of roughly 23,000 American jobs.”
Tens of thousands of American jobs being lost would normally make a Republican president change heart in an instant, however when our current president donned a coal miner’s helmet at a rally in Charleston, West Virginia back in May of 2016, he made it clear that he was committed to a revival of our coal industry, no matter what the media outlets, climate science or political opponents said. However, the coal industry was found in December of 2017 to only be employing 55,000 full-time, year-round employees according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’ (FRED) economic data. One has to wonder, is it really about economic growth and American jobs? Or is the president’s slight on the renewable industry a play to his base?
The Trump administration’s commitment to jobs and economic growth is much less rooted in obstintainable fact, than is his complete and utter gutting of environmental protections from the executive branch. This gutting was exemplified when more than 700 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees were reported to have taken buyouts and/or early retirements by September of last year. The rumored reasoning behind the vast amount of departures from an organization that is known for being one of the main safeguards of our country’s natural systems health, is workers being opposed to the organization’s current direction and the $12 million initiative created that effectively aimed to greatly reduce the amount of employees within the EPA.
Additionally, one needs to look no further than President Trump’s pick to lead the EPA in Scott Pruitt, to assess his underlying motivations in imposing such legislation as a solar panel tariff. Pruitt, who is notorious in Washington for being a staunch opponent of bureaucratic interference in the private sector, authored a National Review op-ed during May of 2016 where he claimed that scientists “continue to disagree” when referring to the mere fact that climate change is happening.