Bulletins

Everyone is mad about the Commerce Department solar probe

Eighty-five House Democrats comprise the latest group that's weighing in on the probe, which is slowing the clean energy transition in the U.S.

Rows of rooftop solar panels.

While the Commerce Department probe has not resulted in any changes to the tariffs on solar materials so far, the chance that it could has the industry — and Democratic lawmakers — alarmed.

Photo: Angie Warren/Unsplash

Add lawmakers to the growing list of people, companies and trade groups that are ticked off about the Commerce Department’s solar probe.

This week, a collection of 85 House Democrats wrote to the White House saying that they're concerned “about the devastating economic and environmental impacts” of the probe, which began in April and has already had already stunted the clean energy transition in the U.S. While the probe has not resulted in any changes to the U.S. tariff structure so far, the chance that it could has the industry upset. Lawmakers have heard those concerns, and they're turning up the pressure on the Biden administration to wrap the probe up as quickly as possible.


“Many of us have repeatedly cautioned against the severe negative consequences this inquiry would have on the U.S. solar industry, and now that this investigation has been initiated, those consequences are playing out across the United States,” the lawmakers wrote, adding that it “threatens to completely derail” the country’s renewable energy progress. The letter signatories include progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and centrists like Rep. Tom O'Halleran, reflecting the broad range of lawmakers invested in a rapid resolution.

The inquiry came about following a petition from Auxin Solar, a small California solar company, that asked the agency to look into whether Chinese companies are skirting tariffs by building panels in Southeast Asia. The resulting investigation is expected to last roughly a year.

In addition to the House Democrats trying to speed up the timetable, a bipartisan group of 19 governors weighed in. They also sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Monday saying the uncertainty caused by the probe threatens clean energy jobs and project deployments nationwide.

“The current market disruption jeopardizes much of the progress achieved by the domestic solar industry and we fear this will only continue for the duration of the investigation,” the group wrote. Neither Texas Governor Greg Abbott nor California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the letter, despite representing the two largest states for solar deployment in the country. (Newsom sent a separate letter to the Commerce Department earlier this month.)

For her part, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a Senate hearing last week that the department is “going to go as fast as possible” to complete the probe. She also said that the inquiry is being carried out by an investigative body that is entirely isolated from political considerations, something the agency has reiterated repeatedly over the past month. But White House officials reportedly told a group of Democrats that the administration is working to limit the uncertainty that the industry is faced with, according to Axios.

This post has been updated with info about the letter that Governor Gavin Newsom sent. This story was updated May 19, 2022.

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