Free Markets

Commerce Department Moves to Destroy Green Jobs

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Mr. Burns, the Simpsons, block out the sun, unfair trade practices

Just weeks after promoting its "green jobs" record, the Obama administration may soon destroy green jobs. Led by SolarWorld, a German-based solar manufacturer, the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) has petitioned the Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission to do something about "illegal trade practices" by China. More specifically, CASM claims the Chinese government has been unfairly subsidizing and "dumping" (selling them below cost) solar products in the American market. Ergo, CASM is seeking countervailing tariffs, preferably up to 250 percent. On March 2, the Department of Commerce is scheduled to rule on these tariffs.

Unsurprisingly, protectionism would raise the cost of solar in the U.S., causing job losses. According to a new report by the Brattle Group, tariffs could eliminate upwards of 50,000 jobs. Depending on the size of the tariff (the Brattle Group examined the effects of 50 and 100 percent tariffs), costs for solar consumers would increase anywhere from $621 million to $2.6 billion over the next three years. In addition, if China retaliates by imposing its own tariffs on American solar products, another 11,000 net jobs could be lost.

So to recap: Green jobs destroy other jobs. And now the Obama administration may destroy green jobs. It's a government-backed circle of death! (Of course, in Ron Paul's America, there wouldn't be any talk of tariffs or a solar trade war. Hell, there wouldn't even be a Commerce Department.)

Fortunately for free markets, many solar firms have formed the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) to attack this solar Smoot-Hawley. Proving that not everyone in renewable energy is a watermelon, CASE declares:

The Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy is a fast-growing coalition of American solar companies that believe free trade and industry competition are critical to making solar electricity affordable for everyone. CASE is united in its commitment to support the continued growth and development of the solar industry in America…

In a solar trade war, everyone loses. Protectionism is bad for the America solar industry, the economy, and the environment.

After all, low-cost solar panels are crucial to attaining grid parity, i.e., when solar is cost-competitive with traditional energy sources. But by imposing tariffs, CASM would raise prices and hinder progress towards grid parity. In other words, CASM would render solar less competitive in the United States.

Speaking of which, why not let the Chinese subsidize solar panels and then we can import them at dirt cheap prices? Consumers would benefit from lower prices, environmentalists would get a cheaper alternative to fossil fuels, and American taxpayers wouldn't be forced to risk another Solyndra. And if SolarWorld and other manufacturers can't compete by providing a better, cheaper, longer-lasting, and/or more reliable product, then they deserve to go bankrupt.

Here's me on solar subsidies and China envy. Matt Welch on the useless Department of Commerce. Frederic Bastiat on solar tariffs.